CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On Tuesday afternoon, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) announced the last stretch of U.S. 35 to be upgraded to four lanes is on track to open to traffic in August.
According to a news release from WVDOT, “Pending unforeseen delays, the last 15-mile stretch of U.S. 35 between Beech Hill and the Buffalo Bridge is set to open to traffic with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the end of August 2021. Gov. Justice approved the final contract for paving on the Roads to Prosperity project in April 2019. This is the last section of the $255 million project from Interstate 64 to the West Virginia/Ohio state line to be upgraded from two to four lanes.“
“I’m tickled to death to hear this,” Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley said on Tuesday when the announcement broke, though he also admitted the welcome news came as a surprise.
Handley, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways created by former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, has been a proponent of upgrading the road for many years — from the fight against using tolls to pay for it, to the announcement by Tomblin that the road would be financed for completion (without tolls), to the 2015 groundbreaking at Buffalo for the final 14.6 miles, to a tour of the project last month with fellow Commissioners Tracy Doolittle and Sam Nibert, and many literal miles inbetween.
“Whatever it takes to do this right, that’s how we (Mason County Commissioners) want to see this completed,” Handley said, adding, the journey to this point isn’t about getting people “there faster,” it’s about getting them “safely there.” He explained the story of the completion of U.S. 35 wasn’t just about its construction.
“This road is for those people who we’ve lost and their families,” Handley said, noting a history of tragedies along the highway as a result of traffic accidents.
Handley also said the completion’s story included the work of many, both politicians and private citizens, who spent decades pushing for it.
During the 2015 groundbreaking, the early efforts of U.S. 35 advocates, the late Charles Lanham and Jack Fruth, were recognized by many, including Handley and Tomblin in his speech.
Lanham, who was in attendance for the 2015 groundbreaking, was asked by Ohio Valley Publishing at the event if he ever gave up on the project getting completed. Lanham said he was certainly discouraged at times, especially after Fruth died. During those times, Lanham said he often thought, “I guarantee you Jack Fruth would have had a solution.”
“My dad and Mr. Lanham saw from the beginning how important it was to Mason County,” Lynne Fruth said about U.S. 35 and its completion at the groundbreaking. “I can’t believe that between Charles and my dad they spent collectively 80 years trying to get this road built. That’s a lot of perseverance. They fought that fight, we got part of the road but the last 10 years, I give Charles a lot of the credit for just keeping it out there and not giving it up.”
According to the news release, the project included eight bridges and a new interchange where US 35 meets WV 869.
The project is a Public-private partnership (3P) between the Division of Highways and Bizzack Construction Company of Lexington, Kentucky.
“As a citizen of Mason County, I think I can speak for everybody when I say I’m looking forward to riding on a safe, four-lane road to Charleston,” Handley said on Tuesday.
Some information for this article provided by WVDOT.
© 2021 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.