Area council debates bypass

NEW CUMBERLAND – After years of stalled efforts, New Cumberland City Council is once again talking about developing a bypass around the city.

Driving the discussion at Monday’s work session were increasing concerns about the volume of oil-and-gas industry truck traffic on state Route 2 through the city, road degradation and pedestrian safety.

Council members said the amount of truck traffic on Station Hill and Ridge Avenue is untenable because of the tight curves, the narrow road width and the weight of the tractor-trailers.

“Sooner or later, the state’s going to have to find another bypass through this town,” said downtown business owner Bill Staley Sr., who attended Monday’s work session.

Staley plans to open Staley’s Hardware & Rentals, at the northeast corner of Madison and Chester streets, on Monday and is holding out hope that something still can be done to make the sidewalk and store entrance safer.

Staley’s complaint about state inaction resonated with some council members.

“We’ve had a lot of empty promises from the state,” said Councilman Shawn Marks.

While they took no action, council members agreed they need to do more to get the state’s attention.

“That’s a big project – to develop a bypass,” Marks said.

Mayor Linda McNeil said the city also needs to enlist the help of stakeholders such as Ergon Trucking Inc., Columbia Gas and MonPower. McNeil said such companies have a lot to lose if any portion of Route 2 through town becomes impassable.

“It would be in their best interest to have a decent road to travel on,” Marks said.

McNeil said the West Virginia Department of Transportation has been considering the issue since at least 1972, when a proposal for a bypass was rejected by the city.

“They had such opposition from the public that they backed off. It was the public’s wishes not to have those plans enacted,” she said.

Monday’s work session included a meeting with Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, which New Cumberland recently joined. Ford said the city needs to set priorities and develop a plan to achieve its goals.

Such a plan should be the work of several committees and should address two priorities in particular – infrastructure (water, sewer, roads) and abandoned buildings, Ford said. Those committees have not yet been formed.

“We’re prepared to work with you to do this plan, but we need to make sure we’re all in,” Ford said. “Everybody has to be working together.”

“If we’d speak with one voice,” McNeil said, “(the state) would hear us better.”

Also Monday, council discussed McNeil’s proposal to move the city offices out of the New Cumberland Municipal Building. McNeil is interested in the former 1st National Community Bank on the city’s north side as a potential home for municipal government. The bank’s New Cumberland branch closed on Dec. 13, and the building may soon be up for sale.

“It sure seems like a good idea to me,” McNeil said. “We would not have the overhead that we have here. We would not have the obligation to the tenants.”

But council members said they think the building is too small to house the clerk’s office, the mayor’s office, council chambers and the police department.

McNeil said she is concerned the city won’t be able to maintain the municipal building if other tenants start to leave. Those tenants include Hancock County Schools, which pays $4,000 a month in rent, and the Hancock County Family Court, City Clerk Tammy Jenkins said.