Tolls could be used to fund new U.S. 522 Collection plaza may be north of U.S. Silica plant
The new U.S. 522 through Morgan County – not the present highway – could be a toll road, according to a revised statement released Monday by the West Virginia Division of Highways.
Due to the proposed route of the proposed new road, all traffic between Berkeley Springs and Hancock might be subject to tolls of $1.50 to $4.50 or more, unless local drivers take side roads to the Potomac River bridge.
In a May 22 news release, the Division of Highways originally announced: U.S. 522, a 19 mile two-lane road between the Virginia border in the south and Maryland border in the north, appears to be a possible candidate to support tolls, however that decision would have to be made with community support.
As public opposition grew, supporters said that it was actually the new 4-lane highway that was feasible as a toll road, not the present two-lane highway.
To set the record straight, Delegate Daryl Cowles met with Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox on Monday while The Morgan Messenger put the question to highway engineer Marvin Murphy.
By day's end, the highway division had issued a new statement which read: U.S. 522 is currently a 19 mile two-lane road between the Virginia border in the south and Maryland border in the north. The construction of a new improved four-lane highway appears to be a possible candidate to support tolls, however that decision would have to be made with community support.
The new 4-lane U.S. 522 was designed by state engineers in the 1990s, but was never built due to its $190-million price tag.
Now, state officials see tolls as a possible way of funding the project. The toll plaza itself is estimated to add $17.5 million to the cost of the project.
Single toll plaza
The new four lanes are planned for slightly east of the present U.S. 522. The section bypassing downtown Berkeley Springs would be placed between the present hospital and Fairview Drive.
In May, the Division of Highways refused to provide a copy of the toll-road feasibility study to The Messenger, saying the study was considered only a draft working document.
On Monday, Delegate Cowles secured a copy from the Department of Transportation and faxed sections to The Messenger.
The toll feasibility study was prepared by DMJM Harris. Currently, the document is being studied and discussed in Charleston, with no action having been taken.
It proposes a single toll plaza in Morgan County, probably located near the U.S. Silica plant. North of that point, the new U.S. 522 would follow the present road, due to the constraints of the Potomac River Bridge at Hancock.
The Harris study suggested tolls of $1.50 for cars and an average of $4.50 for trucks. The estimated toll revenues between 2011 and 2031 were estimated to total from $169 to $211 million.
Under the plan, the present U.S. 522, from North Berkeley to the toll plaza would no longer be a public road, but would be returned to U.S. Silica.
The draft report says: The U.S. Silica Plant is one of the top employers within the corridor, and is located north of Berkeley Springs with U.S. 522 bisecting their property. The plant is an important consideration in the project as they would like to annul the segment of U.S. 522 passing through their property, effectively eliminating a free alternative to the toll road.
People traveling from Berkeley Springs to Hancock would take the new highway and pay the toll since the present U.S. 522 would no longer be a through-road north of town.
Those traveling from the Virginia line to Berkeley Springs would not have to pay a toll since there would only be the one toll plaza near U.S. Silica.
The state estimates that 75% of the car traffic and 94% of the truck traffic on U.S. 522 is actually going through the county, so most would pay tolls at some point. More than 80% of the traffic at the Hancock bridge is said to be private vehicles.
The report notes that some truck traffic could avoid the tolls by taking I-81 from Winchester to I-70 in Maryland, but says the new U.S. 522 will save time.
To avoid a $3 roundtrip toll, local traffic would have to take Fairview Drive and River Road to the Hancock Bridge.
The draft report states: The current traffic levels and capacity of these roads is low. The potential for this route to become a