BUFFALO — Construction this summer along the 14.6-mile final leg of U.S. 35’s four-lane upgrade is bringing the end of the 25-year project within sight, with a completion date now estimated for late July of next year, according to West Virginia Department of Transportation officials.
Conversion of the former two-lane highway to expressway standards between West Virginia’s border with Ohio, where much of U.S. 35 had already been upgraded, and its intersection with Interstate 64 at Scott Depot, in Putnam County, was recommended in a 1990 feasibility study.
Five years later, at Henderson in Mason County, just south of the Ohio River, work began on the state’s first four-lane section of U.S. 35.
Since then, work on the 37-mile upgrade has proceeded in fits and starts, as funding for the project became available, then dried up. At one point, consideration was given to financing the expressway by making it a toll road.
“It’s a crying shame that this project and so many others have taken this long,” Gov. Jim Justice said in announcing the awarding of a $51 million paving contract last April to West Virginia Paving, of Dunbar, for the final 14.6-mile stretch of expressway.
When the governor announced that award, he predicted the project would be traffic-ready by this October. Since then, weather issues and delays in receiving regulatory clearances have contributed to pushing back the projected opening date to the end of next summer, according to District 1 Construction Engineer Gary Mullins.
Meanwhile, work is nearing completion on a $174 million grade-and-drain contract awarded in 2016 to Bizzack Construction, of Lexington, Kentucky, that includes four new bridges, miles of drainpipe installation and moving, reshaping and grading more than 20 million cubic yards of earth.
More recently, Bizzack was awarded a $15.2 million contract to build a diamond-patterned interchange near the Buffalo Bridge over the Kanawha River at the south end of the 14.6-mile “missing link” freeway segment.
Money to pay for the final segment is funded 80% by the federal government. West Virginia’s 20% share of the tab comes from Justice’s Roads to Prosperity Program, which generated about $180 million in state road construction funds through bond issues and taxes on gasoline and new car sales.
An average of 19,000 vehicles, 30% of them trucks, travel on West Virginia’s portion of U.S. 35 each day, according to Justice. When U.S. 35’s transformation from two-lane highway to expressway is complete, “this is going to make our drivers safer,” Justice said, by reducing traffic congestion while increasing safe passing opportunities on the former two-lane highway.
Being able to travel on 37 miles of four-lane limited-access highway between I-64 at Scott Depot and Ohio’s completed stretch of U.S. 35 expressway just north of Point Pleasant also will significantly cut travel time between West Virginia and the Ohio cities of Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. That, Justice said in announcing the construction grants, will make day trips to West Virginia more attractive to residents of those urban areas.
In Ohio, U.S. 35 connects with U.S. 32 near Jackson for four-lane access to Cincinnati and U.S. 23 at Chillicothe, providing a straight shot north to Columbus. From Chillicothe, U.S. 35 continues west as an expressway until reaching the outskirts of Dayton, where a two-year, $15 million project is underway to improve traffic through that city.
The highway passes into Indiana and follows a north-south alignment before reaching its northern terminus at Michigan City, on the shore of Lake Michigan, about 50 miles east of Chicago. The U.S. 35 intersection with I-64 at Scott Depot is the southern terminus of the route.