FRAZIERS BOTTOM, W.Va. — The completion of U.S. 35, a project more than half a Century in the making, was celebrated with a ribbon cutting on Thursday with representatives from federal, state, county and municipal offices in attendance, along with hundreds of community members who had the unique opportunity to stand on the roadway before it opened.
The grand opening was hosted by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice who was joined for the ceremony by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, and U.S. Congresswoman Carol Miller, leaders with the Federal Highway Administration and the West Virginia Department of Transportation, and other officials.
The project, which including taking the final 14.6 miles of two lanes on U.S. 35 to four lanes through Mason and Putnam counties, was reported to cost $257 million. The project was funded through a combination of state and federal dollars.
As previously reported by Ohio Valley Publishing, back in 2015, ground was broken on the completion project with financing from a public-private partnership financing option, not the use of tolls. The 2015 ceremony celebrated the $174 million grade and drain contract that was to construct the new four-lane road between W.Va. 869 (Buffalo Bridge) in Putnam County and County Route 40 (Upper Nine Mile Creek) in Mason County. The paving bid came later due to the fluctuating cost of asphalt. At this week’s ribbon cutting, Governor Justice also spoke about the contribution of the Roads to Prosperity program in regards to assisting in completing the project.
According to a news release from the governor’s office, “Completion of the project will now allow travelers to utilize a safe highway to accommodate increased traffic demands in the area. Motorists will be able to drive on smooth, four-lane pavement for 37 consecutive miles, beginning at the Interstate 64 exit at Scott Depot and continuing straight through to Point Pleasant and the Ohio state line, heading toward Columbus.”
“I used to hunt around here all the time years ago. I would drive 35, and at times it seemed a little dangerous. I’ve always thought, if there was ever a place that needed a bigger road, it’s this,” Gov. Justice said.
“What a great day. To say I’m elated is a total understatement,” Senator Capito said. “I want to thank you, Governor Justice, and your Transportation Secretary, Jimmy Wriston, for the hard work, for the dedication. Obviously, Roads to Prosperity is working. We see it here today and we’re extremely grateful. It’s exciting to think about the safety. It’s exciting to think about the ease of transportation and the ease of moving cargo…This is a major, major thoroughfare and I’m very excited.”
“When I was governor…we started working. All but 15 miles were completed by 2010. This was a tough one. But we worked and worked and worked, and committed ourselves to getting this done, and Governor [Justice], making that commitment, it takes all of us working together to put the commitment to making this final product,” Senator Manchin said. “Congratulations to all of those who have been so involved in making this day happen. We know we have a lot of accidents here. It’s going to save a lot of people’s lives. And I’m so grateful.”
“It’s such an honor to be able to see this road that is so well-traveled become safer and better to drive,” Congresswoman Miller said. “You all who live here know the accidents that we’ve had for many, many years, and I think this is going to cut those way, way down…I want to thank our great governor, Jim Justice, for making the completion of U.S. 35 possible. With his $2.8 billion Roads to Prosperity bond, he got it done. He worked hard to get it done, and I’m so proud that he had the vision to push through.”
Miller also recognized Clif Farley, project supervisor for U.S. 35 for WVDOH who was also retiring. Farley was presented with a special American flag.
In addition to creating 10 new bridges and a new interchange where U.S. Route 35 meets WV 869, the project required a completely new alignment for the highway. Work crews moved approximately 16.8 million cubic yards of earth, laid more than 73,000 tons of asphalt, and put in more than 38,000 feet of drainage pipe for the project, stated the news release.
“This is not only a great day for Putnam County and for Mason County. This is a great day for all of West Virginia,” said State Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston, P.E. “This will be a safe, modern highway. It’ll protect lives.
“My favorite saying that the Governor has is ‘you have to know the difference between effort and achievement,’” Wriston continued. “Well, today is a great achievement. Fifty-three years in the making. Nine governors presided over this project. Governor Justice’s great vision – the Roads to Prosperity program – got it done. Today, we have an achievement.”
“What began as a dream of the folks here and Mason and Putnam counties was a line on a piece of paper in 1992-1993, when we started on this, and today, it’s a safe, modern, four-lane highway,” said Ed Compton, Director of Engineering and Operations, Federal Highway Administration. “I’d like to thank the men and women behind the scenes who did so much of the work…Most importantly, the construction people who, for the last 30 years, have worked so tirelessly on this, especially the men and women who, over the last two years, worked every day through a worldwide pandemic.”
From the Mason County Commission, President Sam Nibert, along with Commissioners Tracy Doolittle and Rick Handley, County Clerk Diana Cromley and County Administrator John Gerlach were in attendance. In addition, representing the Gallia County Board of Commissioners, President Harold Montgomery was at the event to show his support from the Buckeye State.
Handley, who recently finished his 25th year as a county commissioner, has seen the U.S. 35 project through many twists and turns, and as he likes to stress, through “no tolls” — at one point, the option to use tolls to pay for U.S. 35 was proposed but met with resistance in Mason County.
“We stuck to our guns,” Handley told Ohio Valley Publishing on Thursday regarding “no tolls,” adding, if the road had been tolled, it would’ve currently cost someone $16 to go round trip to Charleston.
For Handley, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways and was invited to the State of the State address by former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin back on Jan. 14, 2015 when it was first announced the road would be completed, the most important reason to finish U.S. 35 was “safety,” and he remembered the loss of life on the highway over several decades.
Handley, along with many others at the ceremony, also recognized the “team effort” by so many people on the project over the years, including the late Jack Fruth and Charles Lanham. Lynne Fruth and Eddie Lanham were asked to join in the ribbon cutting on behalf of their respective late fathers.
Also participating in Thursday’s ceremony, the high school bands from both Point Pleasant and Winfield high schools, along with choir members.
Beth Sergent, editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, contributed to this story. Some additional information provided by the office of Gov. Jim Justice.
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