Opinion, WVPA Sharing

Opinion: Creation of Virginia-side authority will help W.Va. highway project

From The Bluefield Daily Telegraph:

Efforts to build the Coalfields Expressway, a critical future four-lane corridor for both southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, have been largely stalled in recent years. The biggest stumbling block facing the project in both the Mountain State and the neighboring Commonwealth of Virginia has been a lack of federal funding.

Most of the work completed to date on the project in West Virginia has occurred in Raleigh County. Supporters of the project are hoping to reach the Mullens area of Wyoming County by 2018. But there are no additional federal or state funds currently associated with the roadway beyond that. Further aggravating the situation is the fact that hard-hit McDowell County still doesn’t have a usesable section of either the Coalfields Expressway or the King Coal Highway.

The situation has been equally challenging in Virginia, where the Coalfields Expressway, also known as Route 121, is proposed to extend through communities such as Grundy, Slate, Haysi, Breaks, Clincho, Clintwood and Pound. But legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year, calling for the creation of a Virginia-side Coalfields Expressway Authority, should help.

The purpose of the new authority is to promote the construction of the long-stalled four-lane corridor in Southwest Virginia. House Bill 2474  “will assist in regional economic development; and generally enhance highway safety in the affected localities through development of a proposed Coalfields Expressway,” the legislation states.

According to the bill, the authority will have 12 members. Six of its members will be appointed by the speaker of the House of Delegates; two of them will be Buchanan County residents.

The newly created authority will serve as a funding mechanism if federal dollars are appropriated for the project, Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, told the Daily Telegraph last week.

“We are hopeful the new administration and our congressional delegation will support funding for the entire Coalfield Expressway project,” Morefield said. “It is unfortunate, but the state simply does not have the resources available at this time to complete the project. I am also hopeful that Washington will see the importance of developing infrastructure in Appalachia. We will continue to educate legislators on how important infrastructure is in creating a base for a strong economy in the coalfields.”

For his part, Richard Browning, the executive director of the Coalfields Expressway Authority in West Virginia, believes the creation of the Virginia-side authority can only help the project. And he is hoping to work with members of the Virginia authority in promoting the development of the overall four-lane corridor.

We, too, applaud the creation of the Virginia-side authority. Anything that can be done to help promote the development of this long-stalled, but critically important four-lane corridor, is welcomed.

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