Sen. Byrd is working to pave the way for vital infrastructure in southern West Virginia by adding $10 million in transportation funding to the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway through the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The legislation, which would split the money between the two projects, won approval from the committee Friday and was immediately hailed as an important step forward for the region’s transportation needs.

“That’s entirely new (money),” said Del. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, who is also executive director of the Coalfields Expressway Authority. “We didn’t get last year’s appropriation because the earmarks were cut. But that is entirely new money, and it is very good news. Once again, Sen. Byrd is coming through. I hope the money will stay in the legislation, and even be increased, as it goes through the final legislative process. I know that Congressman (Nick) Rahall will watch Sen. Byrd’s efforts and try to preserve those when the House bill reaches that stage.”

In announcing the funding, Byrd implied a need for speedy construction of the transportation projects.

“By directing these dollars specifically to the Coalfields and King Coal projects and securing an increase in the state’s federal highway construction dollars, I hope to send a strong signal that these projects need to get moving,” Byrd said in a prepared announcement. “I do not make the decisions on what contracts are written and when. Those are state decisions. But the people of southern West Virginia have demonstrated more than their share of patience for these projects.”

Both highway projects have been under construction for close to a decade. And, regrettably, many people in the region are beginning to wonder if they will see a completion of either projects anytime soon.

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 the new federal prison. The King Coal and Tolsia Highways represent the West Virginia corridors of Interstate 73/74.

The Coalfields Expressway will extend 65 miles through West Virginia in McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh counties, and will eventually extend into Virginia and Buchanan County.

Both roadways are critical to future economic development within the region. Yet last year’s cuts at the federal level, along with a shortage of much-needed transportation dollars within the Mountain State, have combined to create a money crunch for both projects.

We are encouraged by the Appropriations Committee’s addition of $10 million for the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway, and hope this vital funding will be able to steer clear of cuts as it makes its way through the legislative process.

The economic growth of southern West Virginia’s future is riding on it.