BUFFALO, W.Va. — Persistence pays off, but in its own time.
On Wednesday, the persistence of many came to fruition when a groundbreaking for the completion of U.S. 35 was held at the West Virginia Division of Highways Maintenance Facility in Putnam County just past the Buffalo Bridge.
Years in the making, the road’s completion will entail taking the last remaining 14.6 miles of two-lane highway and turning it into four lanes using the innovative public-private partnership financing option, not the use of tolls.Wednesday’s ceremony celebrated a $174 million grade and drain contract that will 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 keynote speaker was Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who announced plans for the completion of the road in his State of the State Address in January.
“This project has taken a lot of time and a lot of effort,” Tomblin said, calling it a “milestone project.”
Tomblin added: “This is an exciting day and a beautiful day for the people of Putnam and Mason counties and our entire state.”
Tomblin then spoke about the state investing “hundreds of millions” into road repair and improvements this summer, and owing residents solid infrastructure.
“I hope this new four-lane (road) is another step in the right direction,” Tomblin said. “I know it will bring improvement to the local community that this new stretch of highway will support for years to come. For years, Route 35 has been recognized for its promise to continue West Virginia’s economic growth and bringing a new element of safety to the local communities. I know it has suffered a lot of setbacks along the way, but I’m proud we’ve been able to work together and overcome a range of issues, from lack of funding to (project) delays, to bring this community the solid infrastructure it deserves. This final 14.6-mile stretch will make a difference for those who call the area home and for businesses that count on this critical east-west highway for shipments and daily work routes.”
Tomblin then recognized the early efforts of U.S. 35 advocates, Charles Lanham and the late Jack Fruth, for which the highway is named. Lanham was in attendance as were Fruth’s wife, Frances “Babs” Fruth, and daughter Lynne Fruth.
“I’m pleased we are finally able to make the Fruth-Lanham Highway a reality and I look forward to seeing the improvements and opportunities this highway will bring to the Mountain State now and for many years to come,” Tomblin said.
Tomblin then pointed to Mason County Commission President Rick Handley sitting in the audience and said, “Rick, I told you I’d get it done and I’m getting it done.”
The governor was introduced by Secretary of Transportation Paul Mattox, who said the completion of U.S. 35 was “decades in the making.” Mattox recalled John Musgrave, of Mason County, inviting him to a meeting with Jack Fruth and Lanham, where he had an opportunity to listen to the “merits” of the project and “how important it was to the region and the nation.” Mattox noted U.S. 35 is 412 miles long and he was “excited to be closer to providing a safe, efficient, continuous four-lane route through Mason and Putnam counties.”
Also speaking, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R), a longtime supporter of the project. She recalled being at a rally for the road in 2001 with then-Congressman Ted Strickland, of Ohio, speaking about the road’s importance in allowing commerce to flow between the Buckeye State and the Mountain State. She also talked about the persistence many had for the project, calling Lanham “Mr. Persistence” when it came to U.S. 35 and saying without the “dedicated leadership” of Lanham and Jack Fruth, “this would not have happened.”
Capito added: “I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am about this. It’s about pulling together, about partnerships, working hard, never giving up and saying, ‘It didn’t work this time but maybe it will work next time,’ and that’s what you did.”
After the speeches, several officials, including Lanham, Lynne Fruth and Frances “Babs” Fruth, helped move the first ceremonial dirt on the project.
When asked if he ever gave up on the project getting completed, Lanham said he was certainly discouraged at times, especially after Jack 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 said about U.S. 35 and its completion. “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.”
Lynne said now it’s up to Mason County to figure out how to take advantage of this opportunity.
Eddie Lanham, with the Mason County Area Chamber of Commerce and Farmers Bank, spoke about how it’s all about location when it comes to developing real estate and how this new road will create “35 miles of better location for economic opportunity.”
Bizzack Construction, of Lexington, Ky., is the contractor and this phase of the project is to be completed by the fall of 2018. Upon completion of the earthwork project, an estimated $70 million paving contract will follow with the completed project scheduled to open to traffic in the spring of 2019.
In the words of U.S. Congressman Evan Jenkins, who also spoke at the ceremony: “It’s a great day for Mason County. A great day for Putnam County. It’s a great day for West Virginia.”
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.