Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and the Commonwealth Transportation Board are to be applauded for their continued pursuit of coal synergy solutions to the many highway infrastructure needs facing Southwest Virginia.
The latest project announced last week by McDonell is a $108 million design-build contract with Rapoca Energy. The private company will prepare a road bed to rough grade a six-mile section of the U.S. Route 460 Connector project in Buchanan County. The public-private coal synergy solution will save the Commonwealth more than 50 percent in construction costs.
McDonnell says the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to award the contract in July for the second phase of the connector project. Although not a direct part of the Coalfields Expressway, the related connector will ultimately link the Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia to Kentucky.
The U.S. Route 460 Connector Phase II is a 6.2-mile four-lane, limited access highway located between the U.S. Route 460 Connector Phase I, which is still under construction near the Breaks Interstate Park, and the proposed Route 121 (Coalfields Expressway) interchange in Buchanan County.
The design-build contract will use the coal synergy concept to provide a road to rough grade at a reduction of more than 50 percent in costs, according to the governor’s office. A second contract would pave the road and complete the project for motorists to use.
The coal synergy concept reduces road building costs substantially by using the coal companies’ larger-scale earth-moving equipment and construction techniques to prepare the road bed to rough grade, thus allowing the private partner companies to recover marketable coal reserves during the road bed preparation.
Such public-private partnerships are proving to be quite effective when it comes to road construction in our region. A similar coal synergy solution was utilized for a segment of the King Coal Highway project in Mingo County in neighboring southern West Virginia.
Without a new, long-term federal highway bill coming out of Washington, states such as Virginia and West Virginia must increasingly look outside of the box when it comes to building roads and bridges. And public-private partnerships — such as the coal synergy solution — can help to bridge the federal funding gap.
The states must also be willing to step up and help build, repair and maintain roads. Federal earmarks — once the primary federal funding source for large-scale road construction projects in our region — are now a thing of the past. That’s why it is good to see that the Commonwealth of Virginia is taking creative and proactive steps today to continue development of future four-lane corridors such as the U.S. Route 460 Connector and the Coalfields Expressway.