BLUEFIELD –– Dirt could be moving again on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County as early as next spring.

“We are hoping by maybe spring or early summer to see some movement on it,” King Coal Highway Executive Director Mike Mitchem said. “We are working closely with Commissioner Paul Mattox and the Department of Highways on the project.”

The state Division of Highways announced earlier this year that it was planning to award a $20 million bridge contract this year for one of the three bridges needed to create a usable segment of the four-lane interstate near Bluefield. The bridge will be constructed over Route 19, near the existing K.A. Ammar Interchange.

With West Virginia’s congressional delegation set to assume powerful new leadership positions next month in Washington, Mitchem said area highway projects such as the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway could reap future benefits from the congressional power shift.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., will chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee in January. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., will head the Senate Intelligence Committee and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., will chair the powerful House Resources Committee and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“Absolutely, it should help all of the area highway projects with them in these key positions,” Mitchem said. “I think that is going to be a big asset to us for them to be in the leadership roles because they will be dealing with the transportation funding.”

Delegate Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, also executive director of the Coalfields Expressway, said the power shift in Washington should benefit not only the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway, but all highway projects in West Virginia.

“I’m anticipating much better things from Washington,” Browning said. “Now that they are back in the chairmanships, they wield far more authority as far as directing dollars. Not only for southern West Virginia, but for the whole state. The problems I’m anticipating right now are in the state because we don’t have that match. That’s why that nickel tax is imperative. Sen. Byrd, and Congressman Rahall, and Sen. Rockefeller, will all three tell you we can’t build any of these roads with earmarked money only.”

The price tag for creating a useable segment of the King Coal Highway in Mercer County is estimated at approximately $80 million. Local supporters of the project are seeking state and federal funding support for the two new bridges, and the proposed Nelson Walker Interchange. If funded, a usable segment of the local Interstate 73/74 corridor would then be created between the existing K.A. Ammar Interchange and the proposed Nelson Walker Interchange near Route 123, and just below the Mercer County Airport.

The King Coal Highway will travel 95 miles through Mingo, Wayne, Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer counties with the Tolsia segment from Williamson to Huntington extending another 55 miles. It will interchange with the Coalfields Expressway in Welch near the Indian Ridge Industrial Park and the site of a planned federal prison. The King Coal and Tolsia Highways represent the West Virginia corridors of Interstate 73/74.

The Coalfields Expressway will extend through McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh counties, and ultimately into Virginia. A non-paved segment of the four-lane highway was finished near Welch several years ago.

–– Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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