Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

January 2, 2011

Earmark woes loom for roads

WELCH — The ongoing debate in Washington over the use of federal earmarks could be a bad omen for the Coalfields Expressway and the King Coal Highway, according to project supporters.

“As far as earmarks in general, I cannot for the life of me figure out why any congressman or senator would want to stop earmarks,” Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, a long-time supporter of the Coalfields Expressway project in southern West Virginia, said. “Less than 1 percent of the federal budget goes for earmarks. If they can’t bring money home for special projects, we have to rely upon bureaucrats in Washington to do that, and it doesn’t happen. A good example is the R.D. Bailey Water Project that I worked on for three years. We relied upon bureaucrats in Washington to get us stimulus money for it, and we didn’t get it. Had our congressman been able to earmark that money, we would have been able to get it. As a state senator myself, I don’t want a bureaucrat in Charleston deciding what is good for my district. I know what is needed, and I know not to ask for anything that is wasteful.”

Supporters of the Coalfields Expressway, the King Coal Highway and the Shawnee Parkway have been largely dependent upon federal earmarks to date to develop the new southern West Virginia corridors, Browning said.

Further complicating matters is the percentage of highway funding the state receives from the federal government, which can be used at the state’s discretion. But the state has failed to allocate any of that funding toward the three southern West Virginia roadway projects, according to Browning.

“A lot of the federal money comes in already earmarked within the federal system for bridges, interstate maintenance and everything that a federal highway would need done on it,” Browning said. “It’s already earmarked within the system. The part that is not earmarked — we’ve never been able to get any of it. I again emphasize that is just not fair. We are not able to get our share.”

Browning said he expects Republicans and Tea Party lawmakers to attempt to block earmarks in the  new Congress. If earmarks were to be limited, Browning said the only hope for the southern West Virginia highway projects would be possible funding in the next federal highway reauthorization bill.

Federal earmarks have been critical to the construction of the King Coal Highway,according to King Coal Highway  Executive Director Mike Mitchem.

“I think it would greatly impact it because there are certain area like the Mercer County segment that I think it would have a great impact on,” Mitchem said. “They (earmarks) have helped with millions of dollars with the King Coal and Tolsia segments. Earmarks have been great for the King Coal Highway, and that’s the only way it’s ever going to be built.”

Mitchem said there is still hope for the project, adding the last time that U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., was in the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was still able to secure $111 million for the King Coal and Tolsia Highways.”

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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