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Bridge project may begin this year, DOH still committed to interchange

MORGANTOWN — During a public meeting held in October at Westwood Middle School, the West Virginia Division of Highways said it was aiming to begin construction of a new Morgantown Industrial Park access bridge across the Monongahela River this spring. 

An information sheet provided at the event noted that the timeline was subject to change. 

It has. 

During a public meeting held Wednesday at Westwood Middle School, the DOH indicated the start of construction is now expected to begin this winter or next spring. 

Once again, the DOH notes, dates are approximate and further changes are possible.  

What we do know is that the bridge is currently estimated at $80 million, and the state’s environmental assessment has confirmed Alternative 3 — the choice of local policy makers — as the preferred connection point. 

Alternative 3 improves the industrial park’s existing Rail Street, crosses the river on a multi-span bridge, and joins U.S. 119 (Grafton Road) near Scott Avenue. A connection to Smithtown Road will also be provided and a portion of Master Graphics Road, connecting to River Road, will also be improved and paved.  

Jason Foster, chief engineer of development for the DOH, said the process has been “extremely accelerated” out of a concern for public safety due to the increasing numbers of large trucks. 

“This route is immensely important. The trucks right now are on River Road. It’s a narrow road and it is unstable,” he said, adding, “It also gets the trucks out of the Westover area, which is very congested. It provides a lot of relief to the Westover and River Road area from the truck traffic.” 

The state has also expedited the process because it has a promise to keep. 

For the last three-plus years, the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Enrout Properties and the Monongalia County Commission have been working toward the construction of a new Harmony Grove interchange to provide direct interstate access to the upper portion of the Morgantown Industrial Park. 

The interchange was not wish-list infrastructure. It was promised by the state to land the massive Mountaintop Beverage facility in West Virginia. 

Trucks began rolling in and out of the 330,000 square feet that comprise Phase I of the bottling plant last May, but due to the complexities of the federal regulatory process surrounding interstate projects, the DOH couldn’t make good on that interchange in a timely manner. 

So, in July 2023 the state announced that it was not only going to push forward with the Harmony Grove interchange but build a bridge across the Monongahela River to the MIP in the meantime. 

Bringing us to Wednesday, when Foster reiterated the state’s commitment to do just that. 

“This in no way interferes with the Harmony Grove interchange. Our governor, our senators have all endorsed both projects. We are moving both projects ahead is what I can offer,” he said. “This project has a quicker timeline for delivery for various reasons in the development side of things. So, we’re able to move it along quicker. So that’s why you’re seeing it first.” 

Latest estimates put the Harmony Grove interchange project at about $30 million, much of which will ultimately be reimbursed by the Harmony Grove TIF district. 

Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom said both projects are needed and he’s excited to hear the state agrees.

“By having both Harmony Grove and this bridge we’ve already had two business who’ve said they’re expanding, and we have three that we’re working with who say they want to come in,” he said. “We’ve never had that.”