Recently, legislators and other officials from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia met in Martinsburg to discuss the future of Interstate 81.

By Del. Gary Howell
Recently, legislators and other officials from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia met in Martinsburg to discuss the future of Interstate 81.  
Subjects ranged from commerce and economic activity to the most pressing problem - traffic capacity. Over the years discussions have ranged from widening I-81 by adding extra lanes to building a separate toll road for trucks, but does the real answer lie further west?
    Does the U.S. 220 Corridor hold the answer?  Running north from Bedford, Pennsylvania, at the PA Turnpike, it is paralleled by Interstate 99 to Interstate 86 in New York. South of Roanoke, Virginia, it is becoming Interstate 73.  What is missing is the four-lane connection between Bedford and Roanoke.  
Currently in West Virginia and Maryland, U.S. 220 is under a Tier 2 study to finalize the four-lane route to connect U.S. 48 (Corridor H) at Sherr to I-68 at Cumberland.
    Assuming the four-lane connector between U.S. 48 and I-68 is going to be built, what would be needed to make a four-lane route connecting I-86 near Waverly, New York, and I-95 near Lumberton, North Carolina? About 110 miles of new four-lane in Virginia, 60 additional miles in West Virginia, four miles in Maryland, and 23 miles in Pennsylvania.  This route would relieve the traffic issues on I-81, but more importantly it would greatly benefit the communities along the new route.  
    The cost of the new four-lane in West Virginia would be about $15 million to $25 million per mile to build. That number will tend to be towards the low side since most of the construction would be in the valleys and not crossing the ridges.  
How we pay for it is the real question. The people of West Virginia do not trust toll roads as the state has repeatedly broken its promise to remove the tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike. After the bonds were paid off, the authority issued new bonds and spent on things unrelated to the road.  
While I don’t agree with Governor Justice on much, his idea of allowing West Virginians to drive on our toll roads without paying tolls by adding $8 to the cost of an annual license renewal bares looking at. U.S. 220 built through West Virginia as a toll Interstate, probably Interstate 99, would have a lot of out of state traffic paying tolls and if instate traffic could drive on it and the other toll roads in the state for $8 a year this may be a project the public would be interested in.
    The real benefit from the project would come from the increased traffic and the ability for West Virginia to gain the economic benefits.  Consider that I-95 and I-81 are the most travelled north-south interstates on the east coast.  The U.S. 220 corridor as I-99 would easily become the third most traveled, bringing commerce into the state.  
Do we know this would work? I-81, the second most traveled interstate on the east coast, travels through Berkley County and Berkley is the fastest growing county in West Virginia because of its access to good transportation.  It is one of the reasons Proctor and Gamble located there.  
One of the busiest east-west Interstates in the nation is I-70, which runs through Wheeling and the success of the area around Cabela’s is testament to what taking advantage of through traffic can do. The problem is I-81 only has 26 miles in West Virginia and I-70 a mere 15 miles, but over those 41 miles we are taking advantage of that traffic. 
    A four-lane U.S. 220 which should be built as I-99 would create 93 miles of the busy four-lane highway through our state creating more economic opportunity, it is something we should be looking at.