It has been nearly 10 years since an additional access road from Interstate 70 to the Ohio Valley Mall property was suggested. The mall's owners say that would provide a substantial boost in business at one of the area's top retail centers.
Even though state officials have earmarked $7 million for the project, it has been years since it appeared the work might actually get under way. This is despite intense interest in it locally and a major financial commitment by Belmont County commissioners.
More than $900,000 has been set aside in a special fund that was established in 2009 to provide local support for the mall access project.
But last week, two of the three commissioners agreed to use that money for general road maintenance projects in the county. Commissioners Ginny Favede and Charles Probst agreed there is a pressing, safety-related need for work on some county roads.
Their decision came after they rejected an idea a few weeks ago, to increase vehicle registration fees to provide money for county roads.
But Commissioner Matt Coffland voted against transferring the money. He and others speaking on the issue argued it appears state officials may be ready to push forward on the mall access road. Eliminating the county fund could send the wrong message to them and federal officials, Coffland argued.
Coffland is right to worry about an economic development project. But Favede and Probst are right, too, to adopt a first-thing's-first approach. State-level progress on the mall road has been delayed for years. If movement on the project occurs in Columbus, commissioners should scramble to provide local support. But leaving more than $900,000 sitting in an account when county roads need work does not make sense.