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U.S. 35: The long road to completion

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley has been waiting for the four-lane completion of U.S. Route 35 for most of his adult life and on Thursday it will finally happen.

Rick Handley

Handley will be there when the ribbon is cut on the final 14.6 mile $257 million section of highway from near Frazier’s Bottom in Putnam County to Beech Hill in Mason County.

The opening will mean motorists will no longer have to use the dangerous two-lane section that has claimed dozens of lives over the past decades.

Handley said the final four-lane stretch will make the trip from Scott Depot to Point Pleasant a lot faster but safety is the most important thing the highway will provide.

“More importantly, most importantly of all, it will be a safer road,” Handley said this week.

Handley said the new section will save lives. He said he’s personally known several people killed in wrecks on the two-lane highway.

“An old college roommate and real dear friend of mine was killed there back in 1983. There’s a lot of memories about people killed on that road that we don’t have to hopefully worry about being killed in the new Route 35,” Handley said.

Earl Ray Tomblin

The old two-lane Route 35 in West Virginia used to go from Point Pleasant to just outside of St. Albans. It was all two-lane with the exception of a few miles of four-lane in Henderson near Point Pleasant that was completed in 1997.. Two separate contracts, completed in 2008 and 2009, resulted in the construction of approximately 11 miles of four-lane from I-64 at Scott Depot to near the Buffalo Bridge and a stretch of four-lane near Beech Hill in Mason County was completed in 2010 leaving the final 14.6 miles that will open Thursday.

The final cost of converting the entire section in West Virginia from two-lanes to four-lanes is approximately $750 million.

The final section has been a difficult one to get done. Following the completion of the Scott Depot to Buffalo Bridge stretch, the state ran out of money and there wasn’t much coming from the federal government to complete what was left. There was a failed attempt in 2010 to add the highway to the West Virginia Parkways Authority and place tolls on the road that would pay for its construction. The Mason County Commission had to approve the plan for it to happen but Handley and his fellow commissioners rejected the tolls. Handley said things were quiet until he heard from former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

“He invited me to the State of the State Address January 14th of 2015 and when he said he was going to authorize the legislature to come up with the money, he looked over to me and nodded and I knew right then it wouldn’t be long until we had this road finished,” Handley said.

Gov. Jim Justice

Earth-moving work began a few months later. The project was still in that phase when Gov. Jim Justice was elected in 2016. He made the completion of the 14.6 mile section a priority in his $2.8 billion ‘Roads to Prosperity’ program.

U.S. Route 35 is all four-lane in Ohio and Indiana. The total length of the highway is 417 miles between Michigan City, Indiana and Scott Depot in Putnam County. It’s a major north-south truck route.

Thursday’s ceremony is scheduled for 11:30 near the Buffalo Bridge where a new intersection has been constructed. Gov. Jim Justice, U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Joe Manchin and others are expected to be on hand. The highway will open after the ceremony.

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