Jefferson County officials are understandable nervous about the fortunes of one of the county’s largest employers and one of its deepest sources of tax revenue, Hollywood Casinos. The encroachment of gambling into Pennsylvania and Maryland presents an uncertain future for Jefferson’s economy, indeed for West Virginia itself.
This doubt lies behind area lawmakers’ efforts to expand U.S. 340 from the Virginia line around Rippon in order to capture what interest there might be among Virginians for slots and table games at Charles Town.
Unfortunately, in the way of this plan, sits Ryan’s Glen, a residential community built within the last 10 years and, incredulously, in the path of this longproposed bypass. This subdivision’s having been developed promises that whatever cost there might have been to the project, it will be even greater with the land in the road’s way already developed.
What’s more, alternate routes that seek to skim off land from longtime property owners could prove no greater remedy and end up resulting in construction delays if the project were to get tied up in lawsuits.
West Virginia’s highways office clearly failed to plan effectively; knowing the route this road was going to take highway officials should have taken steps years ago to buy the land they’d need for it. The error by the Planning Commission is a subsequent one, but no less baffling. What part of ‘there’s a road coming through here’ didn’t commissioners hear before granting their approval for the project? Why were these warnings never followed up on?
Nevertheless, perhaps it’s time to ask if this stretch of road should even be constructed at all. The presence of Hollywood Casinos has been a boon to Jefferson County. The tax receipts to the county and to its municipalities have been fund major and necessary projects, the casino is one of the area’s most stable employers and it offers a diverse mix of entertainment that continues to draw visitors from many states. But, as revenues from the casino and racetrack continue to slide, it might behoove state and county officials to ask if the most prudent path would be to spend money on what promises to be an expensive highway in order to capture the final available market for gambling in what has become a region glutted with gambling opportunities. Does it make sense to go fracking for those last gambling dollars available to us if the return isn’t worth the cost?
Someday this golden goose will lay its last egg for Jefferson County. It’s long past time for Jefferson County to consider real, lasting economic development — the kind that builds a lasting and prosperous economy, a solid tax base and a stable community.