POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Commission’s top priority when meeting with representatives from Congressman Nick J. Rahall’s office on Tuesday was the completion of U.S. 35.
Kelly L. Dyke and Robby Queen, district directors for Rahall, sat down with Commissioners Rick Handley, Tracy Doolittle and Miles Epling at the Mason County Courthouse for the informational work session. The session focused on the needs of Mason County, and how its newly elected congressman can help address those needs.
Yesterday’s session was about exchanging information not working a miracle and as such, the completion of U.S. 35 was no closer to being done than it was before the meeting. However, Mason County’s newest congressman and his staff now have even more perspective on the importance of the project to many residents.
During the meeting, Handley said when it comes to some roads, they are strictly for convenience but when it comes to the completion of U.S. 35, that stretch of road is about necessity, safety and economic development - all aspects which should put the project near the top of any list when it comes to funding. County Administrator John Gerlach pointed out the sheer volume of traffic on that road would have to rank it near the top of any list of road projects.
Handley said the commission realized the completion of the road was not the only project in the state but this project was basically 14.6 miles which were needed for the entire country. These 14.6 miles link Michigan to Florida, Handley explained.
“Congressman Rahall does understand the importance of the completion of route 35,” Dyke assured the commission.
The problem doesn’t seem to be communicating the project’s importance but lack of funding and no money earmarked amongst dwindling, available dollars. Dyke asked Handley for an update on what Paul Mattox, commissioner of highways for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, had told him about funding for the project. Handley said Mattox informed him federal funding for projects like the completion of U.S. 35 had been receiving significant cuts every year. The cuts were taking budgets to “bare bones” - to the point where road paving which was once done every seven years, was now done every 11-14 years.
Handley said the WVDOT has so far widened around 10 of the 14.6 miles of U.S. 35 as part of an upgrade to the road. Still, it’s a far cry from four lanes as anyone who has gotten stuck behind a large tractor trailer or farm equipment on U.S. 35 knows. There’s also an issue with drivers who are unfamiliar with that stretch of road making dangerous decisions, as well as those who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time simply because the busy road leaves little room for error which can, and has, resulted in fatalities.
In the end, commission members continued to hammer home the completion of the road to the staff which will take the sentiment back to Washington.
Present at the meeting, in addition to county commissioners, Gerlach and Rahall staffers, were County Clerk Diana Cromley and John Machir, of Mountain State Healthy Families. More on Machir’s discussion in the meeting in an upcoming article in the Point Pleasant Register.