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MPO Policy Board to consider extending Exit 155 project timeline

MORGANTOWN — In 2019, it was believed a project to reshape Interstate 79’s Star City exit (Exit 155) would begin in 2021. 

Now, as 2023 draws to a close, it appears as if that work could be as much as five years away. 

The Morgantown Monongalia Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board is considering a change to its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) that would give the project a 2029 designation. 

The policy board tabled the Exit 155 TIP amendment during last week’s meeting citing the need for additional information. 

The TIP is the fiscally constrained list upon which projects must be placed to receive federal funding. It is a mechanism through MPOs to ensure local stakeholders have a say in the expenditure of federal funds on transportation projects. 

The TIP currently has the interchange reconfiguration listed for fiscal year 2024.  

MPO Executive Director Bill Austin explained extending the timeline would mean the project would need to happen before the end of FY 2029, but it could happen sooner. 

An arrangement between the state and local stakeholders could expedite matters, as could additional federal dollars. 

In July 2022, a local contingent including the county and developer WestRidge applied for $95 million through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s INFRA Grant program. It was explained that money would pick up where the West Virginia Division of Highways’ $66 million interchange project ended and upgrade infrastructure west to Mylan Park. 

That application was unsuccessful but has since been resubmitted. 

“Moving Exit 155’s timeline to 2029 is based on the current status of grant applications and other issues. It could be moved forward if the application is successful,” Austin explained, noting that regardless of whether the additional INFRA money materializes, the project will eventually have to move forward. 

“Sooner or later whether they get a grant or not, they’re going to have to do it,” he said. 

In the meantime, two related projects are anticipated.  

One, the bridges over Chaplin Hill Road will be addressed as part of more than $100 million in bridge replacements and renovations in north central and northern West Virginia. 

Second, two sets of coordinated traffic lights will likely be going up on Chaplin Hill Road at both I-79 off ramps. That work is expected in the first quarter of 2024. 

In its current state, the Exit 155 interchange has been rated “F” for failing by the department of transportation during peak evening and Saturday hours.  

The reconfiguration will turn the existing infrastructure into a divergent diamond interchange with a flyover heading west.