Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 21, 2013

King Coal Highway — Fight for funding must continue


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Supporters of the King Coal Highway are once again asking area lawmakers for $66.9 million in federal funds to help create a useable segment of the future four-lane corridor in Mercer County.

That’s the latest estimated cost of extending the local Interstate 73/74/75 corridor from the twin bridges at Stoney Ridge to Route 123 near the Mercer County Airport.

Members of the King Coal Highway Authority met last week in Washington with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. The group, which included several authority board members from Mercer County, also requested $20 million in federal funds to complete the long-planned interchange of the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway at the Indian Ridge Industrial Park in Welch.

The group also is requesting $140 million for a 5.3 mile section of the King Coal Highway from Mary Taylor Mountain to Buffalo Mountain and $18 million for the Sharon Heights Connection near Gilbert, also in Mingo County. Another $76 million was requested for four segments of the Tolsia Highway.

The coalition requested the projects be considered for funding as soon as additional federal transportation dollars become available. However, the unfortunate reality of the situation is that it could be some time before additional federal transportation funds are made available. Blame it on a number of factors. The federal ban on earmarks. The sequester. The inability of lawmakers to pass a new, long-term federal highway transportation bill as opposed to the current two-year extension. The continuing partisan bickering in Washington. Or the nation’s troubling debt crisis that makes finding additional federal funds for critical highway projects such as the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway all the more difficult.

So does that mean we simply quit — and accept the fact that we have a bridge to nowhere at Stoney Ridge? Absolutely not. In fact, area leaders — and members of the King Coal Highway Authority — must continue their fight for federal funds. And they must fight harder than ever before.

And the same goes for Manchin, Rahall and Rockefeller. These highway projects are absolutely critical to future growth in towns and cities in their home state and district. All three lawmakers should be actively fighting — and leaving no stone unturned — in the search for federal funding for these future four-lane corridors.

We have a bridge to nowhere near the Mercer Mall. What we absolutely must have is a bridge that leads to a usable segment of the future four-lane corridor — a bridge that links the existing K.A. Ammar Interchange and Christine West Interchange/Bridge 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. Anything less would be simply unacceptable.