The westbound lanes of U.S. 340 were so clogged with traffic Thursday afternoon at the interchange with Md. 67 in Washington County that traffic heading into Virginia and West Virginia was nearly coming to a stop.
The headaches on the highway have become commonplace over the years, as commuters returning home from points east have practically turned U.S. 340 into a “parking lot” at times, said Ken Knight, a resident of Kearneysville, W.Va.
Knight was part of a group of local residents who packed the Bolivar Community Center on Thursday afternoon to meet with highway officials from three states to see what can be done about the congestion.
The congestion occurs in an area of U.S. 340 where the highway narrows from four lanes in Maryland to two as the highway crosses the Potomac River at the Washington County line.
The two-lane section goes through a small section of Virginia, and continues as the highway crosses the Shenandoah River at Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
The highway then returns to four lanes in West Virginia.
The West Virginia Department of Transportation, Maryland Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Transportation and Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization held an informational workshop to seek possible solutions to the U.S. 340 congestion.
The three-hour workshop, which at one point attracted about 40 people, was held to get input from residents about what can be done to improve traffic flow in the area. West Virginia highways officials said in a news release that possible ways to ease congestion could include carpooling, park-and-ride facilities and turning lanes, as well as evaluating traffic signals.
West Virginia Department of Transportation officials said they will receive public comments on possible solutions until Sept. 17.
Richard Warner, one of the West Virginia Department of Transportation officials who was at the meeting, said it is possible that some improvements could be in place within five years.
Various proposals were being floated among citizens at the meeting, including a bypass that would go around Harpers Ferry and connect to Md. 67.
Highway officials at the meeting emphasized that they only will consider more short-term solutions, primarily because there is little funding for large projects.
“It takes seven to 10 years to build a new highway,” Warner said. “We’re not talking about anything like that.”
Although West Virginia highways officials are taking the lead on the effort, the three states are coming together on a problem that “affects all of us,” said Greg Slater, director of the Office of Planning and Preliminary Engineering for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
Knight said traffic conditions on U.S. 340 around Harpers Ferry have become “brutal.” When train commuters in West Virginia faced an increase in daily riding fares, they began driving to Brunswick, Md., to escape the hike, Knight said.
Knight thinks that has put hundreds more people on U.S. 340 between Brunswick and Harpers Ferry daily. Add that to people coming to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and other tourists flocking to other attractions in the area in the summer, and driving becomes problematic, Knight said.
Bolivar Mayor Bob Hardy said he sees few solutions for the traffic problems. Hardy said the only idea he can think of is adding more travel lanes to the Shenandoah Bridge at Harpers Ferry by building another deck on top of the existing one.
Some people from the Loudoun Heights area in Virginia came to the workshop.
They were worried about a “Florida T” that has been considered by Virginia highway officials for the intersection of Va. 671 and U.S. 340 along the two-lane section of U.S. 340.
In the “Florida T” design, another lane would be built that would allow traffic coming west from Maryland to bypass the Va. 671 intersection with U.S. 340. A traffic light currently is at the intersection.
If a “Florida T” is built at the intersection, motorists coming from Virginia on Va. 671 and turning left onto U.S. 340 would have to merge into the new lane for westbound U.S. 340 traffic.
“We’re going to get stuck in what amounts to a three-lane highway,” said James Mann, who lives near Loudoun Heights.
The West Virginia Department of Transportation is accepting public comments on solutions to U.S. 340 congestion until Sept. 17.
Comment sheets that could be given or mailed to West Virginia highway officials were available Thursday afternoon at a workshop at the Bolivar (W.Va.) Community Center.
Residents can go to the West Virginia Division of Highways website at www.transportation.wv.gov or http://go.wv.gov/dotcomment for project information and an opportunity to comment on the project.