By CHRIS BOYD
for the Daily Telegraph
SLAB FORK —
A convoy of press, public and politics raised clouds of dust along an unfinished corridor of the long-awaited Coalfields Expressway Thursday during an open tour of the construction zone.
Interested members of the community met at the Slab Fork exit and listened as the latest developments and planned construction dates were given by the West Virginia Department of Transportation and others.
According to the WVDOT Coalfields Expressway website, the Expressway is complete and open to traffic between Interstates 64-77 at MacArthur and County Route 34 at Slab Fork in Raleigh County, a distance of approximately 7.7 miles.
A section in Raleigh County extending south from County Route 34 to a point west of Helen, approximately 5 miles in length, has been constructed to grade but has not been paved and is not open to traffic.
Construction of an additional 1.8-mile section extending south from that point began in late 2013; this construction will extend from Raleigh County into Wyoming County and is anticipated to be completed in the fall of 2016.
From that point south, design is under way for the 3.8-mile section extending to W.Va. 54 at Mullens in Wyoming County. The construction to complete the approximate 10-mile section between Slab Fork and Mullens is anticipated to begin in 2018.
Ali Sadeghian, regional design engineer for the state Division of Highways, gave an up-to-date analysis of progress and reminded those present of the benefits the highway will bring.
“The 2-mile section, which is a four-lane highway (connecting current construction to Mullens area), that is scheduled as of now to go to construction, (is) to begin in spring of 2016. The funding source of that section, as of today, we are working on it.
“The next section is a connector road, which is a mile and a quarter, to get to the town of Mullens from the four-lane to the two-lane. That connector road is also scheduled in 2016-17 to go to construction. The funding source for that section, we do have that in the plan so we know where the funding’s going to be coming from,” Sadeghian said.
“Following that, most importantly, is paving from this point (Slab Fork exit) to the town of Mullens. You’re looking at about a 10-and-a-half mile section. As of today, it is on our schedule for 2018. And the funding source for that job, it is also known as of now. It is anticipated funding that we will get in 2018. Hopefully by sometime in 2019, late, this entire section should be open to traffic,” he added.
“Just keep in mind, I was just driving by and looked up by Wal-Mart, there’s a traffic sign that says ‘4 miles to Sophia and 21 miles to Mullens.’ Once this is all done, you’re looking at about 25 miles reduced to 10-and-a-half miles. Just think about it, as far as travel time and how many lives the emergency vehicles can save ...”
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall gave a short speech, from the bed of a pickup, promising continued efforts for transportation.
“We have a momentum building with the passage of an important bill. It has been six years since the Congress last enacted a Water Resources Development bill to extend programs supporting our national waterways. The House passed this measure by a vote of 417-3. It will put the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers back to work in the long range to keep commerce and West Virginia coal moving to market,” Rahall said.
“Building on this momentum, I am working closely with the U.S. Chamber, its members and with members of local chambers across southern West Virginia who understand the need for our nation to invest in a bold, long-term transportation bill. Not just temporary extensions and not just pennies thrown at us, but a bold initiative in order to give our businesses, our contractors and the American people the necessary assurances that they have to plan for their businesses and their jobs and their careers in the future.”