Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 24, 2013

Seeds of growth — BAT a good Exit 1 addition

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— There appears to be a general consensus among local economic development officials that the Interstate 77 Exit 1 in Bluefield is an area that needs to be developed. However, a number of stumbling blocks remain, including the need for improving signage and visibility to the exit.

It can also be argued that developing the area near Exit 1 could be the key to future growth for the Bluefield area. After all, just look at what Exit 9 has done for the greater Princeton area.

But besides a few notable exceptions, Exit 1 has largely been a blind spot for the traveling public. And that’s unfortunate. However, the looming completion of a long-planned transit relocation project could help to change things. Contract crews are already hard at work transforming the former Eagle Truck Lines building on John Nash Boulevard, near Exit 1, into the new Bluefield Area Transit headquarters.

With the Mercer County Commission’s approval of the city of Bluefield’s annexation request earlier this month, the project now has an official green light.

The city of Bluefield recently acquired a 33-acre parcel of land that includes the 3.5 acres where the BAT facility is to be located. “Some of the city’s property is on the mountain side, but there is a beautiful three-acre site beside the bus garage that is already level and ready to go,” BAT Director Patrick McKinney said last week. “It would be suitable for several different kinds of developments.”

Right now, McKinney is focused on the interior transformation of the former truck garage into a state-of-the art public transit facility. The project involves a remodeling of the 11,346-square foot structure for use by the transit buses, as well as the addition of modern maintenance bays and a bus-wash bay. The project contract also calls for the demolition of the old administrative portion of the former truck garage.

The $2,756,570 project is being funding by the Federal Transit Administration and the West Virginia Division of Public Transit. No local matching funds are being utilized for the project.

The BAT system is currently operating out of the old freight station building on Bluefield Avenue. The relocation project accomplishes several objectives. It provides the transit system with a larger and more modern facility to operate out of. A new fueling station also is planned in the area. This in return should bring more traffic and activity to the John Nash Boulevard site. The BAT system itself has a total of 24 buses with about 18 or 19 on the road on any given day.

The relocation of the BAT system to John Nash Boulevard also could provide the seeds for additional growth at Exit 1. It is our hope that more businesses will follow the lead of the BAT system — as Exit 1 is an area that should be bustling with commercial activity.

After all, when a motorist exits the interstate, he or she expects to find gas stations, restaurants, hotels and motels and shopping centers within just a short distance. And that’s what we should be seeing along Exit 1. The BAT is a good start, and could provide the spark needed for additional growth.