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Bike path future on hold

By Staff | Jun 9, 2014

Seeking a resolution for the construction of the bike path along Route 480 to begin, Shepherdstown officials hit a roadblock Thursday when the County Commission refused to issue such a document. The resolution, required by the Department of Highways, is necessary before any work can begin on the proposed path.

Shepherdstown Recorder Lori Robertson sought the resolution from the county officials, one that she told the group Shepherdstown had already signed.

Hesitation in producing such a document came when county leaders discovered that the document makes them responsible for maintenance of the path when it is complete.

“The County Commission agreed we would make a match [financially] and that would be the extent of our involvement,” Dale Manuel said Thursday. “What has changed in our requirement?”

Commission president Walt Pellish agreed, “I don’t recall maintenance being discussed,” he said.

Lyn Widmyer commented that she had initially thought the county’s Parks and Recreation department could maintain the path; however, when the county cut the parks budget, she said that possibility no longer existed.

“The DoH should maintain this just as they do the other path,” Widmyer said. “We need to negotiate with the State on maintenance of this trail. We don’t even know what material it will be made of yet,” she continued.

Matt Mullenax, GISP and Transportation Analyst with the Hagerstown Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization, who has worked with Robertson to secure the Transportation Enhancement grant, explained that the State Department of Highways would not agree to maintain a project that has been funded by the grant. The State does maintain the path that runs along Alternate Route 45 and Route 45 as well as the newer path along Route 9.

County attorney Steve Groh advised the commission that “maintenance” was not even clearly defined in the resolution text.

“There is also a liability issue,” Groh said. “If we do maintenance, we have liability. I do not believe our insurance will cover property we don’t own,” Groh continued. The bike path property would be owned by the State of West Virginia as it all falls in the right of way of the highway.

Groh went on to remind commissioners that they can, in no way, financially obligate future commissions with multi-year contracts.

“I fully support the monetary match to this project,” Patsy Noland stated. “However, I cannot support maintenance and a commitment to future commissions. The County Commission has to be gotten out of the mix,” she continued.

Pellish suggested that County Administrator Debbie Keyser be tasked with drafting letters to the Department of Highways, State Senators and the Governor with regard to the state taking responsibility for the maintenance of the path. Until that time, the county will not move forward with a resolution which stops the project before it begins.

Robertson expressed her disappointment in the actions of the commission after the meeting.

“I am very disappointed in their action and the possible delay it will cause in the project,” Robertson said. “We will continue to work with the county as well as with the DoH to reach a quick solution to this impasse.”

Robertson also said that she believed the county had committed earlier to maintenance of the path when the match for the grant was sought several months ago. Should that not be the case, she said, other possible solutions will have to be found as the work cannot move forward until a resolution is provided to the Department of Highways.