By BRAD JOHNSON
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday passing the road bond initiative on Oct. 7 would help pay for new Corridor H construction, which he called “by far the most important road project to our state.”
Justice, speaking during a conference call with state newspapers Thursday afternoon organized by the West Virginia Press Association, shared details about what passing the road building initiative would mean for the state.
The referendum will take place Oct. 7. Its passage will make $1.6 billion available for road construction, improvement and expansion projects throughout West Virginia.
“I really believe it’s the single biggest vote West Virginians have ever made in the history of the state,” Justice said during the conference call Thursday. “If we pass this, you’re going to have the creation of instantaneous tens of thousands of jobs.”
Justice said he believes passage of the initiative would create 48,000 new jobs. Asked whether he thought there were 48,000 qualified construction workers in West Virginia, Justice said, “We want every one of those jobs to be filled by West Virginians.” He said the state would “aggressively” seek to do so with the help of colleges and vocational schools who could help train potential employees.
Justice admitted, however, that realistically “some of those jobs will be filled by out-of-state workers.” However, he pointed out that those workers would pay state taxes and spend money in West Virginia, both of which would benefit the state and its economy.
Tom Smith, the state commissioner of highways and secretary of transportation, responded to a question about when the road work would begin if the vote is passed by saying, “Probably some of that work will get started before winter,” while other work would begin in the spring.
The Inter-Mountain asked Justice if passage of the road bond initiative would contribute to the completion of Corridor H.
“OK, this is an easy one for me,” Justice said. “Everywhere I go, probably half of the questions that come to me have to do with Corridor H … I would be a gigantic supporter of completing Corridor H. There can’t be a more important highway to our state.”
Smith agreed, saying “the economic impact of Corridor H is so important to our state. When you look at commerce flowing from the Washington, D.C. area, Corridor H is a major pipeline for that.
“We currently have about 7 miles of the Kerens to Parsons section under contract,” Smith said. “The Roads to Prosperity program would allow us to finish Corridor H over to Parsons. It would be finished and open to traffic.
“Each one of the major corridors– the Coalfields Expressway and the King Coal Highway — each one of those has one of these sections of roadway”that will be affected if the vote passes, Smith said. “Can’t finish the entire roadway, because each one of those roadways, the total cost to finish all three of them would be $3.7 billion. But what we think is so important is that on each one of those we finish the next section and get it open to traffic.”
Justice said he believes the federal government will provide help to complete Corridor H.
“The following thing is going to happen here, just as sure as I know my name,” the governor said. “At some point in time, there’s going to be a major federal infrastructure program come down the pike. I truly believe that West Virginia is going to get their lion’s share of the money. Without any question, we can get the next step of Corridor H done, but then the two other links in the chain to finish Corridor H are right at our fingertips …
“There is no project in our state more important than finishing Corridor H,”Justice said. “It will have the biggest economic impact of any highway we will have. So what we need to do is just piggyback right on this federal infrastructure program that’s coming, with Corridor H being right at the head of the line.”
Justice also said he had connections with the White House. He said passing the road bond initiative would “send a message to the Trump administration that is willing to try to help West Virginia. We can send that message that we’re all in for ourselves. That’s another thing that the Trump administration wants to see, that West Virginians believe in West Virginia too.
“They are actively trying to help West Virginia,” the governor said. “They truly are. And you can say what you want but I know this. They have been to our state multiple times, and you are listening to the very person now who is the reason that they’re coming to West Virginia. They want to help us. But we’ve got to show that we want to help ourselves too.”
Justice spoke at a town hall meeting in Elkins Monday focusing on the Oct. 7 vote.
More information on the Roads to Prosperity bond referendum is available at transportation.wv.gov.
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