I left Morgantown in 1995 with fond memories of a quaint college town. I lived in Clarksburg a few years later and came up to Morgantown frequently, but then I left the state for years. Every once in a while I would pop into town and notice that things were really changing. A shopping center here, a new road there, and lots of apartment buildings in areas where students traditionally lived.
On July 22, 2009 NBC Nightly News profiled Morgantown as a recession-proof location. According to U.S. Census data, Monongalia County’s population grew 8.4% from 2010 – 2015. This solidifies that Morgantown is a much different place than 20 years ago. The growth here in North-Central West Virginia (Monongalia, Marion and, Harrison Counties) is equaled only by that in the Eastern Panhandle (Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson Counties) in the Mountain State.
“We are a big, small city,” Monongalia County Commissioner Thomas C. Bloom recently told me.
However, Bloom said that a lack of cooperation between the City of Morgantown, Monongalia County, and West Virginia University has allowed the growth to proceed without proper planning. Bloom went on to say…
We are 20 years behind the times and it is now catching up to us… We grew without any planning, and the university grew and they weren’t part of the picture, nor did they help in funding…no one would talk to each other.
This has led to housing in areas where the roads are not able to handle the traffic, which is leading to crumbling road surfaces as well as massive traffic jams on a regular basis (does anyone remember January 12th?). There is also the added factor that people from Clarksburg, Fairmont, Waynesburg, and Uniontown travel to the area for work, thus adding even more traffic to our already congested roads. Bloom said the tax structure in West Virginia is a huge obstacle for areas that are seeing growth.
These taxes need to raise funds to build roads, sewers, schools, and other infrastructure to accommodate the new residents, but the state collects all tax monies and put them into a big pile in Charleston and then divvies them up without any regard as to which areas generated more tax revenues as well as which areas desperately need the funds.
According to Bloom, the only tax funds Monongalia County generates is from property taxes, while Morgantown raises a large amount of revenues from the various fees it imposes. Bloom has suggested a 1% county sales tax (total of 7%) to help raise the needed funds to build and maintain roads and the like, but he has not received strong support for the measure.
“[The Monongalia County Commission’s] relationship with the city is horrible,” he said.
The other side of this coin is that the new growth is centered along the I-79 corridor – which unlike the I-68 corridor – is not within the boundaries of the City of Morgantown. University Town Centre, and its new WVU Medicine Outpatient Surgery Clinic and the Monongalia County Ballpark, is in the municipality of Granville, while the Morgantown Mall is in Westover. Osage and Star City also look to benefit along with many other unincorporated portions of Monongalia County, which is where the new $25 million WVU aquatic and track center in Mylan Park is being built.
WVU has also let its own transportation issues get out of control. There are now 3 distinct campuses: Downtown, Evansdale, and Medical. The university acts like the PRT and shuttle buses going up and down crumbling, crowded, and often-closed University Avenue is sufficient to move students, faculty, staff, and visitors between these 3 busy hubs of academic activity. Who are they kidding? What are they going to do about it?
The fact is that WVU, the City of Morgantown, Monongalia County, the State of West Virginia, and private businesses have reaped the reward of 20+ years of steady growth in this area. The infrastructure is at a point that it cannot take any more burden. The individual is the one who pays for this by sitting in traffic, or waiting for (and hoping) the PRT to make it, or driving on roads that may actually swallow your car. What are these various entities I just listed going to do? And when are they going to start working together?