U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., says a resumption of construction on the long-delayed King Coal Highway project must be a priority for state officials. And we certainly agree with that statement.

With the recent passage of the FAST act by Congress, West Virginia is set to receive $2.5 billion in transportation funding over the next five years. The King Coal Highway project in Mercer County, which has been stalled since 2007, is currently set for a resumption of construction in 2019 as part of West Virginia’s six-year highway plan.

With federal transportation dollars now flowing into West Virginia, we believe it is imperative for construction on the local Interstate 73/74/75 corridor to begin at that time, and preferably much earlier. In fact, we would like to see dirt moving at Stoney Ridge near the Christine West Bridge later this year. And members of the King Coal Highway Authority, who traveled to Washington last week to seek support for the project, made that same argument.

The region has simply waited far too long for a resumption of construction on this all-important project. Now that federal funding is available, state officials, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state Department of Transportation Cabinet Secretary Paul Mattox, must prioritize the King Coal Highway.

Those who traveled to Washington last week included Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce President Marc Meachum, Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett, King Coal Highway Authority Executive Director Mike Mitchem, and several other southern West Virginia officials. The group met with Jenkins, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“Now that Congress has passed the FAST Act, our state has the resources to move forward on key transportation projects like the King Coal Highway,” Jenkins said after meeting with the King Coal Highway delegation. “The FAST Act, which is now law, will provide West Virginia with nearly $2.5 billion in transportation funding over the next five years — but it’s up to state officials to decide which projects will be prioritized and funded. I believe the King Coal Highway must be a priority, as it will bring economic opportunities to southern West Virginia. I will continue to work with the King Coal Highway Authority and local leaders to push for completion of this vital connector for West Virginia.”

Leaders in the nation’s capitol plan to speak with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the federal EDA and see if help with some of West Virginia’s highway projects can be obtained, according to Mitchem.

“We talked about needing to open up our infrastructure to create economic growth,” Puckett added. “That is the key. If we don’t have investment in infrastructure, we can’t have economic growth.”

We agree. The completion of the future King Coal Highway corridor is absolutely critical to opening up southern West Virginia to new economic development and growth. And we can start that process with the creation of a usable segment of the I-73 corridor from Stoney Ridge to the Mercer County Airport.

With hope we will see dirt moving again on the King Coal Highway near Bluefield sooner rather than later.

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