BLUEFIELD — The ongoing struggle to build the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway projects in southern West Virginia is attracting national media attention.
A front-page article Thursday on USA Today chronicled the long-fight to build the two future four-lane corridors, and included a photograph of Bluefield’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.”
In the article, area officials talk about the urgent need to secure additional federal and state dollars for the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway, and how both projects would be an ideal fit for President Donald Trump’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure plan.
“It has to help,” Gordon Lambert, president of the McDowell County Commission, said of the national attention generated by the article. “As I tell people if we don’t get it done now, it will never be built in our lifetime.”
Lambert, whose photograph also is pictured on the front page of the USA Today article, said Trump can help the region by including both the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway in his proposed infrastructure bank plan.
“It could mean so much for us with the infrastructure taking place with the bridges and the whole deal,” Lambert said. “It is really important for tourism, manufacturing and everything. You’ve got to have the infrastructure before you can have the development. He (Trump) promised us he is going to help coal, and that is really going to make a big difference. They will need the metallurgical coal for steel and bridges.”
Richard Browning, executive director of the Coalfields Expressway Authority, said he thought the USA Today article was well written and fair. He too hopes the national attention will help to expedite the construction of the four-lane corridor.
“The more national press we get about it the better,” Browning said. “It can help bring attention to the fact that the southern coalfields here have powered this nation for many, many years.”
Browning said southern West Virginia now needs help in return.
“There is no better place — as I’ve said many times before — for the federal government to come in and fix what they have basically torn up, which is our way of life,” Browning said. “I feel like we have been abandoned here.”
Mike Mitchem, executive director of the King Coal Highway Authority, said the national attention the article is bringing to the future Interstate 73/74/75 corridor is helpful.
“I think with some national (media) it should catch the president’s attention, and the governor is going to be working closely with the president so we will hopefully see some movement on the road,” Mitchem said.
Construction on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County has been stalled since 2007. That was when the Christine West Bridge was completed. But the bridge and the interstate corridor comes to an abrupt end at Stoney Ridge — prompting some to refer to the twin interstate bridges as the "bridge to nowhere."
The King Coal Highway, and its related Tolsia segment, is part of an interstate system that, when finished, will run from Detroit, Mich., to Myrtle Beach, S.C., bringing more people through the state each year. The projected cost of the West Virginia portion is about $1.3 billion.