Fayette County officials said Monday that the entire West Virginia link of the Mon-Fayette Expressway from the Pennsylvania/West Virginia state line to Interstate 68 could be constructed and ready for traffic by the end of 2005 if federal money is earmarked for the project next year.
"The bottom line is that this project will get completed if there are federal earmarked dollars," said county commissioner Sean M. Cavanagh.
Both Cavanagh and commission chairman Vincent A. Vicites were optimistic that the $40 million in federal funding can be obtained and positive about the results of the meeting. Their comments came following a Monday morning meeting held in Charleston, W.Va., between officials from both states.
Cavanagh said U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D-Johnstown) will act as the liaison between the two states and may help secure the funding for the project. During the meeting, Cavanagh said Mark Critz, a Murtha staff member who handles transportation issues, said Murtha has made the project one of his highest priorities. The veteran Democratic congressman is seeking re-election today and is expected to handily defeat his Republican challenger, Bill Choby. Murtha is a member of the powerful appropriations committee.
"The big thing is for this project to be in the hands of Murtha," Cavanagh said. He added that Murtha has served with West Virginia U.S. Rep. Alan B. Mollohan as well as West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise.
The majority of West Virginia attendees were from the West Virginia Department of Highways. Vicites said 20 people attended the meeting, including 14 from Pennsylvania and six from West Virginia. Vicites and state Rep. Pete Daley, who also attended, set up the meeting.
During the discussion, Vicites said Pennsylvania officials learned about the progress being made in West Virginia. Currently, the Rubles Run Bridge near the Pennsylvania/West Virginia state line is being constructed and will be completed in the spring of 2003. Additionally, two sections of road are constructed, making a total of 2.5 miles pavement that has already been poured. For the project to be complete, Morgan's Run Bridge must be constructed as well as 2.4 miles of road down to the interchange. The highway beyond Ruble's Run Bridge to the future site of Morgan's Run Bridge is completed as well as a section beyond the future site of Morgan's Run Bridge.
Vicites said the West Virginia highway officials are confident that the $11 million in local funding can be obtained. He said the good news is that the project will cost $51 million in funding, instead of the $70 million that was previously forecast. He said that figure doesn't include the cost of upgrading the interchange at Interstate 68, which could be done later.
Vicites said when the federal highway bill is reauthorized next October, everything should be in line for the funding to be earmarked.
"That's where the focus has to be," Vicites said.
During the meeting, the sides discussed the benefits of both states on a regional basis.
"It's basically an investment in the future for Pennsylvania and West Virginia," Vicites said. He said he focused on the similarities between Morgantown and Uniontown.
Both Vicites and Cavanagh said that having the road open will provide enhanced medical and educational facilities for both states as well as increased economic opportunities.
Vicites said he would like to follow up with a meeting on the federal level some time in the next couple months. He said he plans to send a letter to the winner of today's gubernatorial election to encourage a dialog with the governor of West Virginia regarding the project.
On another positive note, Vicites reported that West Virginia Department of Highways secretary Fred VanKirk reported that Gov. Wise has said the highway is a priority to him as well as other highway projects. Fayette Expressway Completion Organization (FAECO) chairman Jim Marzullo said it was a very productive meeting. He said there was "really a spirit of cooperation on both sides."
Fayette County transportation consultant William Piper said it will take a cooperative effort between two states and the federal and state officials will have to work to get it done. But he said, like any project, the next step is looking for money.
In addition to Vicites, Cavanagh, Daley, Marzullo, Critz and Piper, others in attendance included State Sen. J. Barry Stout, D-Bentleyville, Luzerne Township Supervisor Ron DeSalvo, State Rep. Jim Shaner, D-Dunbar, a representative from the office of state Sen. Rich Kasunic, D-Dunbar, Dave Yoder, an executive in the Monongalia County Development Authority, Dr. Jackie Goodwin, Randy Epperly, John Lewis, Joe Deneault and secretary Fred VanKirk of the West Virginia Department of Highways, and Dave Zazworsky and Frank Kempf of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.