KERENS, W.Va. — A group pushing for completion of Corridor H announced a plan Tuesday they say could finish the highway within five years.
“For 50 years, the citizens of West Virginia and particularly of this area have been waiting for the completion of Corridor H,” Robbie Morris, executive director of the Randolph County Development Authority and Chairman of the Robert C. Byrd Corridor H Authority, said at a news conference on the roadway in Kerens Tuesday.
“We have been longing for the days of efficient, safe, scenic and productive travel through what I would say is the most beautiful part of our beloved state.”
Morris said funding issues have continuously delayed completion, with years often passing between construction segments. He declared West Virginia can no longer wait decades for Corridor H to be completed.
“I am proud to announce that through our research and information provided by the West Virginia Division of Highways, we have found a way to complete Corridor H by 2020,” he said.
“In 2013, the West Virginia Legislature passed legislation that allows the Division of Highways to enter into public-private partnerships also known as P3’s,” Morris explained. “What a P3 allows for is for the West Virginia Division of Highways to enter into financing agreements with a single construction company or multiple construction companies to complete transportation projects. A P3 is essentially like buying a house through a mortgage and allows you to get it now and make payments over time. We can do the same thing with Corridor H.”
Currently, Corridor H receives funding that no other road project in the state receives. The funding amounts to $40 million a year from Federal Highway Administration ADHS allocation in conjunction with a State of West Virginia match.
Federal Highway Administration regulations require the state to allow that money to accumulate until they have enough money to construct a useable segment of the highway. The proposed plan will take the ADHS funds and leverage them against soon-to-be freed-up money from other state road bond payments that will be paid off.
“We believe that with these sources, the remaining funds necessary are manageable,” Morris said. “Currently there are 31 miles of Corridor H to be completed. Current estimates expect Corridor H to be completed between 2037 and 2042, which quite frankly, is unacceptable.”
“Our proposed plan would have the highway completed in five years and paid off in as little as 10 years. In addition, the use of P3 would also save the taxpayers of the state of West Virginia upwards of $200 million in construction costs.”
Morris cited an economic inpact study the Corridor H Authority commissioned about two years ago that said if the roadway were completed by 2020 instead of 2036, it would result in $1.25 billion in economic impact. He said the impact of construction costs for completing the road early would bring the impact to almost $2 billion.
Morris said under the proposed plan, the state “wouldn’t have as much of an inflationary problem as you do when having to wait and lose purchasing power with dollars. Being able to upfront those costs, lock in those interests rates, lock in those costs of construction materials today versus 2025 or 2037, that’s where a lot of the savings come in.”
Morris made the point that Corridor H will not only be important to the counties along the highway but to a wide section of West Virginia by opening up the state’s economy to global trade.
Morris said completing Corridor H will put this entire region within a 3.5 hour drive time of the large inland deepwater port facility at Front Royal, Va. That drive time is key to many businesses, he said. It allows drivers to get to the port, unload and drive back in a single eight-hour day.
Morris told the assembled local, state and business leaders the Division of Highways agrees that if a P3 were approved in the next few months, Corridor H could be completed by the end of 2020.
“We are here today to educate the public on the use of public-private partnerships and to encourage Gov. Earl Ray Tomlin to approve the use of this financing tool to complete this overdue project by 2020, as he has already done on two other road projects in West Virginia,” Morris said.
“The timing is perfect, the stars have aligned. We just need the Department of Highways and the governor’s office to approve the use of that and we can start building. This a very important piece of economic development infrastructure for this part of West Virginia as well as the rest of the state. We have the data and the facts to back this up.”
Morris said Tomlin has been briefed by the secretary of transportation and that authority members had met with the governor’s chief of staff. He said the meetings were all positive.
“It’s a fantastic plan, it’s been used before, it’s been successful and people have been waiting enough. We need to get it done,” Morris said.
Del. Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, and Tucker County Commissioners Lowell Moore and Pat Darlington attended the press conference to show support for the plan.