By Sarah Mansheim
Officials with the State Fair of West Virginia and the department of highways have announced that construction on a pedestrian underpass on Rt. 219 South will begin this spring.
At an informal meeting at the WVU Building at the State Fairgrounds on Wednesday evening, plans for a pedestrian underpass at the main entrance of the fair were laid out for the community. The underpass will take the place of the overhead bridge that currently crosses Rt. 219 and takes fairgoers into the grounds from the free parking lot.
“The number one reason for the underpass is safety,” said Jerry Cook, president of the State Fair of West Virginia Board of Directors. With events at the fairgrounds happening year-round, Cook said that the possibility of someone being struck by a vehicle on Rt. 219 has become too great a possibility. “We’ve had some close calls,” he said. Cook also noted that the current pedestrian bridge is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the grade of the bridge can be too steep for many people, not just those with disabilities.
The underpass will be built just north of where the current bridge is, and will be large enough for golf carts and small vehicles to pass through, if needed. The 8-foot-by-14-foot tunnel will be constructed beneath the existing road, which will be elevated in order to accommodate the tunnel.
Cook said that during the fair, the main vehicular entrance to the grounds will remain open near the livestock buildings on the northbound side of Rt. 219 in order to allow livestock onto the grounds. He also said that some of the smaller gates on the southbound side of Rt. 219 will be open in the early morning hours to allow food vendors to bring supplies in. He said he’s unsure if those smaller entrances will be open all day during the fair, because the primary reason for the construction of the tunnel is to protect pedestrians from cars travelling on the busy road.
Construction is expected to begin March 1, Cook said, with the first order of business being the creation of a detour. Architectural plans show that a one-lane detour road is planned to stretch around the WVU Extension office, behind the handicapped parking area of the fairgrounds’ free parking area, down AEI Drive, the two-lane road near Spartan Stadium, and back onto Rt. 219.
Once construction is complete, the detour road will remain in place and will serve as the entrance to the free parking lot. Cook said that the fair also hopes to expand the handicapped parking area by one row.
Officials with the department of highways expect the project to be complete by May. The Greenbrier Classic is once again set to be held on the weekend of the Fourth of July, so construction must be complete by then.
The project’s budget is approximately $1.6 million, with the State Fair picking up 20 percent of the tab and the remaining 80 percent covered by federal highway funds. Bidding will begin this spring.