Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

April 9, 2014

King Coal Highway: All options merit consideration

— — All options must be considered when it comes to finding a way to get dirt moving again on the long-stalled King Coal Highway project in Mercer County. After nearly six years of construction inactivity — and countless complaints about the region having a so-called bridge to nowhere — finding a way to get this project moving again is of utmost importance.

That’s why lawmakers in Washington must give careful consideration today to the funding request presentations that are scheduled to be made by members of the King Coal Highway authority. Local authority members from Mercer County who will be in Washington today include Tom Hall, Christine West, Julie Ball and Marc Meachum. The group, who will be joined by authority members from Mingo, Wayne, Wyoming and McDowell counties, is scheduled to meet this afternoon with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., U.S. Rep. Shelly Moore-Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

The delegation will make two separate funding requests for Mercer County. The first option is a request for $33.5 million, which would be used to construct a usable two-lane corridor from the existing Christine West Bridge at Stoney Ridge to the area of Route 123, near the Mercer County Airport. The second alternate request is for $66.9 million, which would create a usable four-lane section of the future Interstate 73/73/75 corridor from Stoney Ridge to the airport.

King Coal Highway Authority Executive Director Mike Mitchem says state engineers have indicated that two-lanes of the highway could be constructed first at the lesser cost of $33 million, and still be used by traffic. The remaining two lanes could then be constructed at a later time as additional federal funds become available.

Finding the necessary funding remains the challenge. It will take millions more in federal and state funds to complete the original vision of a modern-four lane corridor extending from Williamson to Bluefield through the counties of Mercer, McDowell, Mingo, Wyoming and Wayne. The King Coal Highway is our local segment of the future Interstate 73/74/75. The future I-73 corridor is projected to have an annual economic impact of $220.3 million while also leading to the creation of new jobs in the construction, retail, service and warehouse industries. And locally, it is the future alternate route to the existing U.S. Route 52.

The King Coal Highway is of critical importance to our region. That’s why all options, including the temporary two-lane proposal, must be considered. Other options that should remain on the table in the absence of a new, long-term highway bill, include bonding, tolls and public-private partnerships.

But the best funding options rest with a new long-term federal highway bill, along with a possible TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, federal grant award.

But whether lawmakers will approve a new long-term federal transportation bill once the current extension expires on Sept. 31 or simply pass another short-term extension of the existing measure remains to be seen. That’s why the search for innovative solutions to the King Coal Highway dilemma must continue on both the state, local and federal levels.

 

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