Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 23, 2014

Supporters hold out hope for funds to finish highway

GREEN VALLEY — Local supporters of a modern highway that would connect McDowell County and other parts of southern West Virginia with the rest of the state still hold out hope for funding, especially in light of a recent crash on U.S. Route 52 in Mercer County.

The idea of bringing a new highway, known as the King Coal Highway, to southern West Virginia has received more attention since a March 5 crash on Route 52 in Brushfork took the lives of  two children. Attempts to find funding for the King Coal Highway and other projects have not been successful, but supporters are still seeking options for financing.

Construction on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County has been stalled since 2008. The King Coal Highway is the local corridor of the future Interstate 73/74/75 system. The highway currently ends at Stoney Ridge, near the Mercer Mall and the new twin Christine West interstate bridges.

U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said during a recent visit to Mercer County to help dedicate the new Mercer County Health Department facility that highway funding is important. Creating a “long-term, robust bill” for transportation is vital, and various options for funding such a bill are being explored.

“Of course, that’s the big elephant in the room: How we’re going to pay for it,” Rahall said. “The Federal Transportation Funding Bill expires Sept. 31. We have to reauthorize it by Sept. 31 or all the moneys for it will expire for highway construction.”

A variety of options are available, he said.

“Everything’s on the table as far as I’m concerned. We have a blue ribbon commission that went around the state and explored various options,” Rahall said

Tolls were one highway funding option that came out of the hearings.

 “I’m not saying I advocate it, but that’s one of many options on the table, including bonding, public, private partnership,” he said.

A gas tax increase was another suggestion for raising the necessary funds for highways.

“I don’t say I advocate it, but should be on the table because we have to have the courage to step up to the plate and do everything that’s necessary to fund a robust, long-term bill,” Rahall said. “That’s my number one goal. It’s going to be a tough job for us in the next several months since the highway trust fund is expected to go bankrupt by July or August. We’re in a transportation crisis in this country. There’s no doubt about it.”

Rahall said finding highway money is important, and that it could be found with bipartisan support.

“That’s what we have to do, find financing for a long-term, robust bill. I’m the top Democrat on the Transportation Committee. I work very well with our Republican chairman, (U.S. Rep.) Bill Shuster (R-Penn). That’s a good thing. We’re not at loggerheads on anything,” Rahall said. “It’s vital we work on this problem in a bipartisan way and not let not political hurdles stop us.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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