Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 12, 2014

U.S. Route 52: Tragedy underscores need for action

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Once again the archaic and dangerous U.S. Route 52 corridor is being associated with tragic headlines. And the news last week was particularly troublesome. Two young, innocent children died as a result of a three-vehicle collision on Route 52.

It was the latest in what is a seemingly never-ending list of accidents along this dangerous primary route. How many more tragic headlines must be written before something — anything — is done? Increased law enforcement patrols. A strict enforcement of existing traffic rules. And, perhaps most importantly, an immediate prioritization of the King Coal Highway.

The future four-lane corridor is proposed to extend between Williamson and Bluefield through the counties of Mercer, McDowell, Mingo, Wyoming and Wayne. The King Coal Highway is the local corridor of the future Interstate 73/74/75. It has been designated as a high-priority segment of a high-priority corridor in the National Highway System. Most importantly, it will offer local motorists a new modern, alternative route to the existing U.S. Route 52 corridor.

Yet construction on this all-important interstate project has been stalled in Mercer County since 2008. Lawmakers in Washington seem incapable of passing a new long-term federal transportation bill that could provide funding toward the construction of the local interstate segment. And the King Coal Highway also was inexplicable rejected for a federal TIGER, or Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant, last year. And how can we forget that the project — and the region as a whole — was snubbed back in 2009 when it came to the once heralded federal stimulus dollars.

The need to replace U.S. Route 52 could not be greater. Year after year, snowstorm after snowstorm, we see traffic along this dangerous mountainous corridor come to a standstill. In other instances the roadway is shut down following serious crashes. And the accidents — both minor and serious — unfortunately occur on a routine basis along Route 52 regardless if the weather is inclement or sunny.

Those who drive Route 52 on a daily or even regular basis know the perils of attempting to navigate along this corridor. It’s been dubbed by some as “The Highway that Time Forgot,” and that is perhaps an appropriate title. But until lawmakers are willing to step up and help our region find the federal and state dollars needed to complete the King Coal Highway, the burden of ensuring safety along this dangerous highway will continue to fall upon local law enforcement and highway officials. There is no question that extra patrols are needed along Route 52. The speed limit must be enforced. Impaired drivers must be stopped. And the local District 10 office of the Division of Highways must also continue to prioritize safety along Route 52 both during periods of bad and good weather. And lawmakers who are elected to serve our region should do their jobs and find a way to secure critically needed federal and state dollars to help build a usable segment of the King Coal Highway in Mercer County.

But until that happens it is our fear that we will continue to see accidents along this archaic corridor. And that is truly tragic.