Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 1, 2014

Coalfields Expressway — Review an unnecessary roadblock

— Given the troubling lack of progress seen in recent years on the future King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway four-lane corridors, the last thing that is needed right now is another unexpected roadblock. But that is just what has happened to the Coalfields Expressway project in Southwest Virginia. And the latest stumbling block comes courtesy of the federal government.

The Federal Highway Administration has inexplicably ordered a full environmental review of a 26-mile section of the Coalfields Expressway. It is a decision that raises a number of red flags. The federal government says the full environmental review is necessary because a section of the project has been rerouted as a part of a public-private partnership with a local coal company.

But what the administration fails to take into consideration is that this public-private partnership will save the state of Virginia millions of dollars while also expediting construction on this all-important future four-lane corridor. It is also important to note that a full environmental review of the project was already completed in 2001.

The newly ordered environmental review will take 18 months to complete. And that means additional construction on this critically needed project will now be delayed by almost another two years.

As part of the proposed public-private partnership, area coal companies would convert previously mined areas into the project roadbed through the extraction of coal.

But that’s not a good idea, according to area environmentalists. And when environmentalists speak, we know the federal government listens. The environmentalists argue that the project rerouting will benefit the coal companies, and not Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties. We respectfully disagree. If a public-private partnership with area coal companies can expedite construction on this long-planned project — and save the state of Virginia millions of dollars in the process — it is then only logical to proceed with vigor on the new route and the coal synergy proposal.

But considering that the word “coal” is in the name of the Coalfields Expressway, it was probably only a matter of time before the federal government got involved. Only two miles of the Coalfields Expressway have been constructed to date in Virginia. And now, if the Federal Highway Administration has its way, the project will be stalled for another 18 months or longer.

That’s truly sad. Such effective public-private partnerships should be strongly encouraged, and not challenged by the federal government.

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