WINFIELD, W.Va. -- In 2010, things seemed to be moving forward on the road to completing U.S. 35 -- Putnam and Mason counties had agreed to install tolls to help fund the highway, and federal bonds would help pay for the remainder of the $187 million project.
Three years later, a 14.6-mile stretch of the unfinished four-lane is unfunded, and the interchange that connects the new U.S. 35 with the old U.S. 35 near the Buffalo Bridge has proven both dangerous and deadly for drivers.
Brent Walker, state Division of Highways spokesman, said there is still hope for the project. The DOH has maintained its right-of-way land purchases in the area and is still seeking alternate funding for the highway.
"We're still trying to look for ways to fund that," he said. " ... We're still buying up property, because we don't want to lose that alignment."
Then-Gov. Joe Manchin requested the DOH look into "creative funding" for the project, Walker said, and the agency determined that the construction could be funded through two avenues: the sale of Grant Anticipated Revenue Vehicle bonds, which would allow them to spend federal money that they would expect to receive in the future, and the installation of tolls.
Walker said GARVEE bonds alone could not fully fund U.S. 35, which is why the DOH requested both county commissions approve tolling for the road. Both did, but Walker said backlash for the proposal prompted Mason County officials to rescind their decision.
"Who likes tolls? No one is going to say, 'hooray, tolls,' but what they said was that they supported the completion of U.S. 35, even if it meant tolling," Walker said. "In order for us to go the tolling bond route, the Legislature said we would need to get support from both county commissions.
"I'm not sure people believed that we truly didn't have funding for it; they though it was out there and we just weren't looking hard enough or there was another way, so we were forced to pull it."
The original estimates projected the tolls would cost $2 per stop for non-commercial drivers and $8 for commercial truck drivers, and yearly EZ Passes would cost roughly $200 for access to both booths. Plans placed one toll booth in Mason County, about five miles outside of Point Pleasant, between 3-Mile Creek Road and 5-Mile Creek Road, and the other in Putnam County between Tucker Branch North and Tucker Branch South.
In July 2010, a mother and infant were killed after their car collided with a semi-truck near the Buffalo Bridge interchange. In May, a tractor-trailer overturned and spilled the disinfectant chemical glutaraldehyde, and one tractor-trailer overturned in June and another in August near the site.
"We made improvements to the existing 35, we put up guard rails where we could, we paved through the shoulders so that it was a little wider," Walker said. "Where we've had accidents is where you get off the new 35 onto the old 35 -- it's a sharp turn."