By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A usable section of the King Coal Highway in Mercer County could be constructed at half of the project’s original estimated cost, officials said Monday.
However, that would involve building — at least initially — only a two-lane corridor from the existing Christine West Bridge at Stoney Ridge to the area of Route 123 near the Mercer County Airport. The remaining two lanes under the proposed option would then be completed when additional funds become available, according to King Coal Highway Authority Executive Director Mike Mitchem.
The two-lane option is one of several funding requests supporters of the King Coal Highway will be making Wednesday in Washington. Mitchem said a usable two-lane segment of the highway could be completed at a cost of $33 million. However, the group would still prefer to construct all four lanes at once, which would cost an estimated $66 million.
Mitchem said state engineers have indicated that two lanes of the road could be constructed first, and used by local traffic. The remaining two lanes would then be constructed at a later time.
Mitchem said local authority members, including Tom Hall, Christine West, Julie Ball and Marc Meachum, are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Washington, D.C., 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., to make the funding requests.
“We will be asking for funding, and also asking for updates on the new (federal) transportation bill due in September,” Mitchem said. “We will be asking for funding for the section there in Mercer, and the sections in Mingo and the interchange at Indian Ridge in Welch.”
Mitchem said it will take $20 million to build the long-planned interchange of the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway at the Indian Ridge Industrial Park in Welch.
Congress is expected to consider a new federal highway bill in September. Mitchem said the approval of a new, long-term highway bill, is key to securing additional federal funds for the King Coal Highway. Mitchem said the authority also will reapply for a federal TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, grant this summer.
In the meantime, recent headlines concerning the dangerous U.S. Route 52 corridor have underscored the need for the King Coal Highway, Mitchem said.
“U.S. Route 52 is one of the most dangerous routes with the fatalities and wrecks we have on the highway,” Mitchem said. “This (the King Coal Highway) would be the alternate route to 52. And as it goes in the mountaintops, it would get people out of the flood zone.”
Construction on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County has been stalled since 2008. The future interstate corridor currently comes to an abrupt end on the side of a mountain near Stoney Ridge near the Mercer Mall.
The King Coal Highway is proposed to extend between Williamson and Bluefield through the counties of Mercer, McDowell, Mingo, Wyoming and Wayne. It is the local corridor of the future Interstate 73/74/75. The future I-73/74/75 is the fifth ranked high-priority corridor in the nation.
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com