Alternative 1 is the overall better choice
Even though all the buzz around the new bridge that will connect Morgantown Industrial Park to the interstates has revolved around Alternative 3, the ink hasn’t yet dried on the paper to make it official. Which means there’s still time to consider Alternative 1, instead, as we await word on the Harmony Grove interchange.
Alternative 3 has a lot of local governmental support, which is why it has become the de facto route in conversation. In this one, the bridge would connect the south end of the MIP to U.S. 119/Grafton Road in the less than half-mile stretch between Scott Avenue and the Glotfelty Tire Center. The connection would intersect Smithtown Road somewhere in the area of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses before crossing the river and connecting directly to Rail Street.
However, there are some disadvantages that should be considered before the state invests $70-plus million into the project.
The lesser of these is the bridge would likely become a “bridge to nowhere” in a few years. All the potential routes are designed to connect back to the Harmony Grove interchange, which means Alternative 3 would go from the future interchange to Master Graphics Road, then to Rail Street, which runs between Mountaintop Beverage and the rest of the MIP, and then across the river. Once the interchange is complete, there will be no reason to use the bridge to Grafton Road; trucks will have quicker, easier access to the interstate by going up to the interchange.
The bigger problem is the one MUB pointed out in its recent letter to the Division of Highways: Alternative 3 puts the bridge 1.5 miles south of MUB’s primary drinking water intake. (Remember, the Mon River flows north.) While MUB has voiced its support for Alternative 3, it also made clear it has concerns. The greatest of which is this: If there was any kind of spill on the bridge that overflowed into the river, MUB would have only a handful of minutes to try to prevent contaminated or hazardous materials from ruining our drinking water supply. (Think Elk River chemical spill, circa 2014.)
With these concerns in mind, local officials should give greater consideration to Alternative 1, which would put the bridge in the roughly 1,000-foot stretch between the Morgantown Lock and the BFS station at 305 Don Knotts Blvd. It’s not perfect — instead of repairing the existing River Road, it calls for creating a parallel road to connect the new bridge to the future Harmony Grover interchange.
However, the bridge would likely continue to be used long after the interchange is complete: A second bridge between Morgantown and Westover would create a better connection between the communities and hopefully alleviate some of the congestion at the current Westover bridge.
More importantly, the Alternative 1 bridge is above the water intake, which means construction and any possible spills would not be an immediate threat to our drinking water supply. That alone should be reason enough to consider Alternative 1 over Alternative 3.