Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 18, 2013

Robert C. Byrd’s vision of a grand ‘King Coal Highway’ must be fulfilled


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — While recent budget negotiation developments would hint of some reappearance of common sense in Washington, reality would suggest that lawmakers instead simply understand that the public is still angry at them and that the 2014 midterm elections are fast approaching.

Simply put, they are trying to save their jobs. That’s why we won’t see another government shutdown come January. And some lawmakers — at least for the time being — are likely to give up on their seemingly futile battle to stop the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. At least until after the 2014 midterm elections.

One can still hope that lawmakers may one day get back to doing their jobs as opposed to fighting with each other to no end. Don’t get me wrong. I’m speaking from more of an independent-minded voter standpoint. A lot of what some lawmakers are fighting for is good. But some of the other fights they are picking don’t make a whole of sense.

It’s true that a lot of people don’t agree with things the Obama administration is doing. And that’s why some lawmakers — generally more Republicans than Democrats — are fighting the administration in all ways possible. I have concerns as well. Some of the changes I’ve seen over the past six years brought on by this administration have been troubling to say the least. But at some point we have to start working together again and addressing common needs. I would rank building roads and bridges at the top of the bipartisan wish list.

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When Robert C. Byrd passed away in 2010, there was a lot of speculation about what impact his death would have on the state of West Virginia.

After all, the late senator had been successful in securing millions upon millions of dollars for his beloved home state of West Virginia during an incredible span of more than five decades in the U.S. Senate. Many of his critics termed the millions he brought home as pork. But that pork was put to good use when Byrd was alive. After all, most of the work completed to date on the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway in southern West Virginia was courtesy of that pork. It’s also important to not forget that the nearly $100 million in federal funds used to relocate the town of Grundy in neighboring Southwest Virginia outside of the flood zone also came from the process formerly known as federal earmarks.

We don’t get a lot of federal funding, or pork if you will, anymore in West Virginia. Instead our state appears to be firmly in Washington’s bull’s-eye. That’s probably because West Virginia is a state that is increasingly voting Republican. By comparison, the Commonwealth of Virginia is now a state that is increasingly voting in favor of Democratic candidates. It’s interesting how things have sort of flipped in recent years as it relates to our neighboring states.

But here is the simple fact of the matter. We have a bridge to nowhere in Bluefield. And we’ve had a bridge to nowhere in Bluefield since 2007. That’s unacceptable. We need the King Coal Highway. What we absolutely must have is a bridge that leads to a usable segment of the future Interstate 73/74/75 corridor — a bridge that links the existing K.A. Ammar Interchange and Christine West Bridge at Stoney Ridge near the Mercer Mall to Route 123 and the Mercer County Airport.

That’s why the fight must continue on the local, state and federal level for the King Coal Highway. The most recent estimates suggest it will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $66.9 million top create a usable segment of the King Coal Highway near the Mercer County Airport. And the longer we wait to resume construction odds are the greater that price tag will become. The time to act is now — not another five or 10 years from now.

Having a bridge to nowhere is no good to Bluefield, Princeton or Mercer County as a whole. Anyone who travels U.S. Route 52 on a daily basis will attest to the need for the King Coal Highway — an alternate route for those who are looking for a safer and more modern way of reaching the deep south counties.

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The vision the late Robert C. Byrd had for southern West Virginia — and Mercer and McDowell counties in particular — shouldn’t be forgotten or cast aside. Byrd believed in the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway. Area lawmakers should be doing everything in their power to fulfill his grand vision.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.