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Funding for highway interchange approved

Wyoming County Report
August 9, 2010
Funding for highway interchange approved
Project to be built near site of new federal prison
By Mary Catherine Brooks
Wyoming County Bureau Chief

PINEVILLE — A line item of $900,000 for the construction of the Coalfields Expressway and King Coal Highway interchange has been included in a transportation-housing appropriations bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The exchange will be constructed in McDowell County, near the new federal prison set to open later this year, according to officials.

More than 300 jobs are now being filled by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for the new facility.

The funding, secured by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., will go toward the construction of a roadway and bridges for the intersection, from Dock Creek to Cedar Run, to assist with mitigating traffic congestion and funding a key infrastructure piece for a modern and safe highway system.

Rahall has secured nearly $300 million for the Coalfields Expressway and King Coal Highway, bringing together two of the most important efforts in the state, he said.

Importantly, the interchange will ease access to the nearby Indian Ridge Industrial Park, just across the Wyoming County line, and the new $232 million, 1,280-bed federal prison facility, Rahall noted.

The total cost of the interchange is estimated at $40 million, according to state Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming.

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“This funding means jobs, construction, renovation in the short term, but sustainable jobs for the long term,” Rahall said. “When I first suggested starting the Coalfields/King Coal interchange many years ago, I knew it was ripe for development, and I commend the many local man hours that have gone into making this crossroads a turning point for the economy.

“Now, with Senator Byrd’s work in delivering the federal prison, jobs are a reality with more in the making,” the congressman noted.

Prior to his death earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd helped secure the location of the federal prison in McDowell County.

“Every $1 billion in federal highway dollars, when combined with local funds, creates 34,779 jobs — that means that this legislation is an investment in critical transportation and infrastructure needs and job creation at the local, state, and national levels,” Rahall explained.

“This bill works to address the important challenges of keeping our transportation system safe and strong, ensuring that every American has adequate shelter, and doing so in a way that strengthens the economy,” he said.

“I am very pleased that the congressman has inserted funds in this bill for us — as he always does,” Browning emphasized. “We will add state funds to these dollars and keep moving these projects along.”

Last week, Browning attended a legislative conference in Charleston, S.C., on alternative ways to fund transportation projects.

“There simply is not enough money to build what is needed, nationwide,” Browning said Tuesday via an e-mail interview during the conference. “More emphasis is being put on state financing of projects and hopefully I will hear something new.”

The appropriations bill now moves on to the U.S. Senate.

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Currently, the state Division of Highways has about $30 million available for the Coalfields Expressway, money that has come down through federal appropriation bills from Byrd and Rahall, Browning said.

“We are in the process of building the last section we have money for in Raleigh County,” Browning said. “The remaining dollars, excluding this money, will be used to design the remaining four miles to Rt. 54 in Mullens.

“Our request for the next federal highways bill includes the money to build from the prison down to Rt. 16 — I think nearly $70 million,” Browning noted. “We have requested enough money to complete the road to Mullens, an additional $30 million.”

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Currently, 6.9 miles of the Coalfields Expressway is open to traffic in Raleigh County.

The new road will eventually traverse Wyoming County and will be the first four-lane for both Wyoming and McDowell counties.

Seventeen miles are under design, with 41 miles yet to be designed, according to DOH officials.

Designated as U.S. 121, the new road is now a proposed 112-mile four-lane, with partially controlled access, that is currently set to run from I-64/77 in Beckley to U.S. 23 in Pound, Va., by way of Sophia, Mullens, Pineville, Welch, and Bradshaw in West Virginia.

Prior to his death, Byrd secured nearly $150 million for the Coalfields Expressway.

Browning said the road from Welch to Beckley has been discussed since the early 1960s and became a reality in 1988 when he and then-Del. Rick Staton sponsored a resolution creating the Coalfields Expressway. In 1991, a federal line item of $50 million kicked off the Coalfields Expressway funding. Construction did not begin until 2000, however.