GALLIPOLIS — The main topic of discussion during a recent meeting of the boards of commissioners of Mason and Gallia counties was the completion of U.S. 35.
The meeting, held Thursday afternoon during a regular meeting of the Gallia County Commission at the Gallia County Courthouse in Gallipolis, allowed the respective commissions to discuss their common goals to improve the welfare and economy of their counties — the largest goals of which is the completion of the over 14-mile stretch of U.S. 35 that remains two-lane in Mason and Putnam counties.
According to Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley, his fellow commissioner Miles Epling recently expressed his concern to West Virginia U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller over the lack of funding for the roadway and Handley, as well as commissioner Bob Baird, will be traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to discuss the issue with Senator Manchin, as well as U.S. Representatives Nick Rahall and Shelley Moore Capito — meetings at which they will convey the need for the completion of the roadway.
“This is not a dead issue as far as we’re concerned. We still want that 14.6 miles paved. I don’t care if it’s two miles every five, 10 years, just as long that we know that there’s an end in sight,” Handley said.
Handley further expressed his concern over the number of traffic crashes on that stretch of highway — not the least of which was a fatality that recently occurred in Southside — and, while all accidents cannot be attributed to the state of the roadway, it may play a factor.
Additionally, Handley commented that finishing the expansion of the roadway would provide a boost for the local economy.
“It helps you all [in Gallia County], helps everybody go from north to south and, again, I wouldn’t expect all 14.6 miles paved in a couple of years, but [I want to] see that they’re going to try to seek money for the rest of that four lane,” Handley said. “What we have [completed] is great. It is absolutely fantastic.”
Gallia County Commissioner Harold Montgomery stated that he, as well as the other Gallia County Commissioners, have had the opportunity to speak to the elected officials representing Gallia County in regard to the completion of U.S. 35 and would continue to do so in the near future.
Mason Commissioner Miles Epling stated that, after speaking with their senators, he understood that the only missing link needed for the completion of the roadway is funding and, Mason County Administrator John Gerlach added that funding should be available for the highway based upon the number of motorists that utilize the route.
“They’ve told us that they’ve prioritized the disposition of their money based on traffic counts and I don’t see how they can find a road that’s got more traffic on it than that road and not be able to find some money to finish it,” Gerlach said.
Handley reported that a very narrow portion of U.S. 35 is currently being upgraded and widened in Putnam County near the Buffalo Bridge.
According to Handley, crews are working from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays on this section to widen the roadway to two, 12-foot lanes with two, four-foot berms.
“We feel that will be a big help when that is finished. It will be very similar to what’s on Route 2 once you get to Cabell County,” Handley commented. “That’s a really good road down there and I’m sure [on U.S. 35] that will alleviate a lot of accidents.”
Montgomery further stated that, in addition to the U.S. 35 completion, he would be willing to explore grants and any multi-jurisdictional projects that would benefit both counties.
“We’re here to join you in any efforts that we can help you with,” Montgomery said.
The Mason County Commissioners agreed and maintained that fighting for the completion of U.S. 35 will remain a priority for them in the months to come.
“To be fair to our people, we need to continue to fight for the remaining little section there. I don’t want [our representatives] to forget about it,” Handley said.