MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Members of the Monongalia Morgantown Metropolitan Planning Organization (MMMPO) will be a part of a committee to meet with DOH officials to get an update on the scheduling of the Transportation Improvement Plan.

The motion to establish the committee was approved by a near unanimous vote after discussions related to the planned Star City Interchange Project (a.k.a. the Exit 155 Interchange Project) were tabled to get more clarity on the timeline for state dollars expected to be used in the project. MMMPO Chair and Monongalia County Delegate Joe Statler called for the establishment of the committee due to confusion over a slate of both federal and state dollars dedicated to the project. The committee would include a combination of county and local representatives who will look to get answers on how the project will be funded in order to allow for other side projects that were included as part of an over $110 million proposal to move forward.

“I want to appoint an informational committee to look at 155, to meet with the state, to narrow down some things that’s out there and how we move forward,” said Statler, addressing members of the MMMPO during their regular meeting Thursday night.

The Transportation Improvement Plan Committee will include Statler, Monongalia County Commission President Sean Sikora, Morgantown Area Partnership President and CEO Russ Rogerson, former Morgantown Mayor and WVU Director of Local Government Relations Ron Justice, Star City Recorder Steve Blinco, and MMMPO Executive Director Bill Austin. As part of the committee, they will meet with State DOH officials, with State Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston potentially a part of the conversations, to discuss how the $66 million dedicated towards projects for the improvement plan will be affected by around $54.3 million coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation. With months of no firm answers on a state level added to a potential conflict over how projects will be completed, Statler feels a formal meeting is needed.

“I don’t want anybody to believe that we’re trying to put the breaks on, to slow it down, or to hold it up, I certainly don’t want the folks in Charleston to feel that way,” said Statler. “I just want some good, clear direction on where we’re at,” he said.

The establishment of the Transportation Improvement Plan Committee will not affect any future plans related to the Exit 155 Interchange, the Morgantown Industrial Park Access Road, or other projects that are included as part of the multi-year plan. This includes the replacement of I-79 bridges over Chaplin Hill Road, flyover reconstruction on the westbound end of I-79, and a pedestrian and bicycle connection between the Star City bridge and the regional rail-to-trail network. While there’s a call for more clarity of the timeline for the project that has been in the works, there’s confidence that the five year window for the MMMPO Transportation Improvement Plan will not be affected if a goal to start construction by the end of 2024 can be reached.

“But this project started a good while ago, I don’t know where it’s at now compared to where it was (to our last update in January),” said Statler. “What’s moving forward? What are the commitments? What’s the money commitment? What is the project commitment?” he said.

If State DOH officials confirm with the MMMPO that the approximately full $66 million allocation will be approved as previously stated, then plans for construction on the Transportation Improvement Plan are expected to move forward after years of delays. The start of construction would be the start of the completion of road infrastructure plans that have been in the works since 2019, but have been delayed by various funding delays. With the federal funds now ready to be used, the MMMPO hopes to hear more news from the State DOH so any parameters that could affect funding will be avoided, preventing any further delays.

“We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to do that (compliment the state and federal funds) and make sure, at the same time, we’re made as whole as possible,” said MMMPO member and Monongalia County Commission President Sean Sikora. “We want as many dollars flowing through Mon County for this project as possible, and we have to figure out how all the projects connect,” he said.