By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., is asking newly appointed West Virginia Transportation Secretary Tom Smith to prioritize the construction of the long-delayed King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway projects in southern West Virginia.
Jenkins said Thursday that he is urging Smith to use federal highway funds provided by Congress in the FAST ACT legislation to help jump-start construction on the King Coal Highway, Coalfields Expressway and other highway projects in the Third Congressional District.
“Southern West Virginia has many road projects that have been long promised but never completed,” Jenkins said in a letter to Smith. “On a daily basis, my constituents ask me to find a solution to this critical issue. Too many of our roads are unsafe and are in need of repair, highways incomplete and bridges fail to meet safety standards. Funding West Virginia’s transportation infrastructure has been one of my top priorities during my time in Congress, and I have been successful in giving our state the resources and tools it needs to properly address these concerns through legislation signed into law last year.”
Jenkins said the FAST ACT will bring nearly $2.5 billion in transportation funding to West Virginia over the next five years to build new highways, repair existing roads, and fix dilapidated bridges. Instead of making spending decisions in Washington, he said the FAST Act gives money to the states to decide which projects will be built and prioritized.
The next section of the King Coal Highway in Bluefield, which would create a usable segment of the future Interstate 73/74/75 corridor near the Mercer County Airport, isn’t currently slated for a resumption of construction in West Virginia’s six-year highway plan until 2019. Area supporters of the future four-lane corridor are hoping that construction can begin sooner. They cite recent jobs losses in the coal industry and the need for job creation as reasons for expediting the project.
“I firmly believe the region must receive its fair share of resources to maintain and improve our transportation infrastructure,” Jenkins said. “Underinvestment in our region will lead to a significant backlog of projects that need to be completed. Projects like the King Coal Highway, Tolsia Highway, Coalfields Expressway, Route 35 and Route 10, just to name a few, remain in various stages of completion – or lack thereof.”
Jenkins said he plans to work with Smith, Gov. Jim Justice and President Donald Trump to help advance the project.
“Please consider me a willing partner and join me in finding collaborative and innovative ways to complete these projects to southern West Virginia’s economy” Jenkins added in the letter to Smith.
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