Mending the Mileground

We find answers to your questions about the local construction chaos.

Your daily commute involves driving from downtown to Cheat Road. It’s only about a three-mile drive on the Mileground, so the trip will only take a few minutes, right? Wrong.

If you’ve driven around Morgantown for any span of time, you know the intersection of Mileground Road and 705 is one of the most congested roadways in the city. On any given day, you sit in traffic for what seems like hours, you always get stuck at the red light, and the driver in front of you never drives quickly enough to get you through the green light. If that’s not bad enough, Mileground driving for the past few months has meant traffic congestion, red lights, bad drivers, and hundreds of construction cones, lane shifts, uneven pavement, and temporary lights. What gives?

We asked Jason Nelson, District 4’s Construction Engineer with the Division of Highways, to give us the scoop on the Mileground construction project.

What was wrong with the Mileground? The road had reached its capacity and needed to be upgraded. The configuration of the intersection couldn’t handle the current volume of traffic plus the traffic that will be added with the new school and the area’s developments. There has been a lot of development in the area—everything seems to be growing out there. There were constant traffic backups on that corridor.

How is this project being funded? Eighty percent of the funding is federal and 20 percent is state funds. The 20 percent of state funding is made up of gas tax revenue.

What are the phases of this project? Phase one is the construction of a roundabout and the approach roadways to the roundabout, which is happening right now. The second phase of the project is essentially tying those new approaches into the existing roadways and widening the roadway of 705. We’ll work on the second phase this summer. In the end, there will be two lanes of traffic in both directions.

Who is in charge? This project was designed and reviewed by our design section in Charleston, and our office has done the investigative work. This project is staffed with four people from the state—a project supervisor and three inspectors. We oversee that the contractor we’ve hired is using the right materials and handling the traffic correctly. We’re there almost every hour the contractors are working because it’s our job to oversee the work. The contractor determines scheduling, how much labor is needed, how much equipment is needed, and what kinds of materials will be used.

What will the new round-about be like? Imagine you’re driving on the Mileground toward downtown, and the armory building is on your right. You’ll enter the roundabout approach without having to stop at a light or an intersection. You’ll have a choice between the right lane, which will take you to the access of Eastwood School, or the left lane. In the left lane, you can choose whether to get off at the Stewartstown Road approach or continue around to the Willey Street approach. Basically it’s going to be four lanes [two in each direction] for the Mileground-to-Stewartstown flow. Instead of stopping and turning right at the intersection, we’re basically making that a straight-through movement instead of sharp right-hand movement.

How are you handling traffic during the construction? Very carefully. We basically set up traffic control and saw how traffic reacted to it. College was still in session when we first started the work, so that caused some issues and congestion. We had to make some adjustments with the timing of the green- and red-light signals at 705 and the Mileground. We also added a few message boards on 857 explaining that there would be backups due to the construction.

When will the project be completed? We’re timing the second phase of this project, working on the tie-in roadways, for the summertime when school is out and the traffic is less congested. This project will be completely finished, hopefully, by August 16, 2013. The contractor has until that date to complete the job, and we’ve given him incentive to get everything squared away by then. If he completes the job after that date, he starts to lose money off of the incentive. If he completes it on or before that date, he gets the full incentive.

Have you received any complaints about the construction? We received several complaints at the very beginning, but we always do when there is new construction. But now everyone kind of understands why we’re working there and what it’s like to work around live traffic. Now everyone’s handling it fairly well.

What advice can you give to drivers in the area during the construction? I know it’s kind of hard to avoid that area because there is a lot of traveling between the Mileground, downtown, and the Evansdale campus. If you can’t avoid that road, just be aware that construction will be going on throughout the summer and to proceed with caution. It will be worth the inconvenience now to not have to wait at that signal once the construction is completed. Patience is the best thing drivers can have.

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