Steve Foster, chairman of the recently formed Corridor H Authority, remains optimistic that the controversial highway project can be completed by 2020.
Foster said he knows it will be tough to keep that time line since the federal government is contemplating slashing funds for the Appalachian Development Highway System.
Seventy-five percent of the 130-mile stretch from Interstate 79 in Lewis County to the Virginia border in Hardy County is set to be completed by next year, and state lawmakers are kicking around a proposal that would put a bond issue before the voters in 2013. The money would be paid back using future ADHS funds, and some sort of user's fee probably would be implemented to help offset the debt.
The funds would be used to complete Corridor H and 17 other highway projects across West Virginia.
"If you're going to borrow the money to get it done, now is the time to do it," Foster said. "The interest rates have never been lower, and the state's bond rating has never been higher."
Plans for Corridor H began in 1965, and they have taken almost as many twists and turns as the mountain roads the highway seeks to replace.
Environmental and historical concerns have forced plans to be redrawn at various stages throughout the corridor's history.
"After 47 years, I had hoped the Appalachian Development Highway System would be complete," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who is sponsoring an amendment to the Senate bill that is seeking to cut funds. "But there are still portions that need to be built. I believe Congress should stand by that commitment. The people across West Virginia deserve to have these projects finished."
The Corridor H Authority is pushing for the road to be completed by 2020, instead of the 2035 date the state is using as a target. Orion Strategies has partnered with the authority in a public campaign to help speed up the completion date. Curtis Wilkerson of Orion Strategies said if the funding is cut, it could force the state to prioritize the projects, a move he said could benefit Corridor H.
"The economic impact between finishing it in 2020 as opposed to 2035 will be in the billions," he said.
The highway has been funded in a piecemeal fashion throughout its history, as small chunks of the highway are completed here and there. The corridor will run 130 miles in West Virginia when it is completed, and another 13 miles in Virginia. The highway is also being considered as a National Defense Highway because it could provide a direct exodus route from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area in an emergency.
"I would argue that infrastructure is something that should be made a priority," Foster said. "We just sort of inch these roads along, and they never seem to get done."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said restoring the ADHS funds to their full level would be "investments that build our economy and strengthen this nation's future.
"These are more than just short-term jobs and projects," Manchin said. "Roads, highways and bridges lay the foundation for attracting businesses and residents to our region. That's why the completion of the Appalachian Development Highway System is co critical."
The road would end at the junction of Interstates 81 and 66 near Front Royal, Va., where one of the largest inland ports in the country is located.
"Corridor H is vital to the wood industry," Authority Vice Chairman Doug Parsons said, noting that the industry exported $85 million in products internationally in 2010. "They have to be able to get their products to ports.
"It's vital to tourism," he added. "When Corridor H is completed, the folks from Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia will be able to get here in just a couple of hours. It will be great for the Canaan Valley area."
Contact John Wickline by email at email@example.com.