By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Supporters of the Coalfields Expressway are awaiting final design plans from the state Division of Highways before proceeding with a coal synergy plan that could help to expedite construction of the Coalfields Expressway in McDowell County.
“We are waiting on the final design by highways to be completed, and we also are waiting on further direction from highways on how the project should proceed and whether it should be a true public-private venture, or whether it will be a CETA (Community Empower-ment Transportation Act) project, or whether highways would bid the project out just like any other part of the highway,” Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, said. “But we can’t do anything until we get that same set of documents back that everyone can look at.”
The Coalfields Expressway Authority has partnered with the McDowell County Economic Development Authority on a proposal to construct a two-mile section of the future four-lane corridor from the Indian Ridge Industrial Park to the city limits of Welch with the help of a local coal company already under contact with the EDA to mine coal in the area. Under the proposal, the mining company would help to construct the road bed while extracting coal, according to Browning, who also serves as the executive director of the Coalfields Expressway Authority.
“There is a lot of good will right now with all of the parties involved,” Browning said. “It’s a win-win for the state since you will get a two-mile section of the highway and it’s a good job for the McDowell County EDA because they are going to get developable land out of it with infrastructure close by. And it’s a good job for the Coalfields Expressway because we are in the business of developing the highway.”
Browning said officials are still awaiting final design plans and recommendations from the DOH. The CETA proposal is a relatively new section of law that identifies how a local entity can develop an infrastructure project utilizing the state’s help.
“We are all in agreement to enter into the project,” Browning said. “It’s just a question of getting the design done to have something to work on and then looking at the law.”
Browning said the new segment of the four-lane corridor would extend the Coalfields Expressway from an existing 1.5 mile non-paved section of the road at the Indian Ridge Industrial Park completed back in 2001 by another two miles toward the city of Welch.
In the meantime, Browning said officials are hoping to move forward with construction later this year on another section of the roadway in Mullens in Wyoming County with help from a $5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant awarded last year by the U.S. Department of Transportation and with additional funding assistance from the state DOH. That would connect Wyoming County with a usable segment of the Coalfields Expressway in Raleigh County.
“I’m really proud of the Division of Highways,” Browning said. “They are taking nothing and trying to do something with it.”
Without funding support from the federal government, Browning said the individual states are going to have to step up and invest more in highway infrastructure in the future.
“The last three highway bills the feds have passed have put more and more emphasis on state and local funding for highway infrastructure,” Browning said. “We can pick up more of that because we have coal that is in the ground. So we have a leg up on most of the states.”
The Coalfields Expressway is proposed to extend 65 miles through McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh counties, and another 51 miles in Buchanan, Wise and Dickenson counties in neighboring Southwest Virginia.
— Contact Charles Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org