The Times West Virginian

October 24, 2013

Corridor H construction over 72 years makes no sense

Times West Virginian

— A prediction has been made on how West Virginia might receive $1.25 billion in new revenue.

Throw in an uninterrupted link to the Inland Port in Front Royal, Va.

Any idea what it is?

All the state, with a little help from neighboring Virginia, has to do is complete Corridor H by the year 2020, instead of the proposed completion date of 2036, according to the Robert C. Byrd Corridor H Highway Authority.

Well, that doesn’t sound too tough.

First, let’s see when Corridor H — a link from Interstate 79 near Weston with the junction of Interstates 81 and 66 in Front Royal — was first proposed.

A little research tells us that this highway was actually proposed way back in 1964, and construction began the following year.

This is 2013 — almost 2014. Almost 50 years from the time that the highway was first proposed, it still isn’t completed.

Corridor H is scheduled to cover 143 miles when completed. And the economic impact study reveals that 75 percent of the highway is either under construction or open in West Virginia.

The completion date as currently scheduled is 2036, but the study reveals that the economic impact from 2020 to 2036 would be worth an additional $1.25 billion while more than 534 jobs and a $360 million increase in wages would also be realized.

Authority chairman Steve Foster calls this study an important one.

“This is an important study,” he said, “because it quantifies what many of us have felt was the case all along. We’re not surprised in the least that the state would benefit by a billion and a quarter dollars if we finish Corridor H in what we think is a timely manner. We felt it important to see hard data that shows just what we could miss out on if we don’t get this highway completed. Throw in the $800 million we could save on construction costs, and I think people can see why finishing this now makes sense.”

For numerous reasons, not the least of which has been a lack of funding, Corridor H is the only section of the Appalachian Corridor system that has not been finished. But funding has been only a part of the problem. Conservationists and environmentalists have been at odds with federal agents, developers and the business community. They wanted the most environmentally sensitive route among several alternatives.

The economic people have a good point in wanting Corridor H — which also has some work still to be finished in Virginia — completed 16 years ahead of the current schedule. That’s a good trick if one can accomplish it — regardless of the $1.25 billion the state could receive in future revenue.

With tight budgets at the state and federal levels, it will be a major challenge.

As the Wheeling Intelligencer pointed out, why anyone concerned with a region's future would plan a major highway to be constructed over a 72-year period is beyond us.

The study must be taken seriously.

“The study gives us numbers to offer government agencies and elected officials that tell all of us in a clear way what Corridor H will do for us,” Foster said.

If they can accomplish the difficult task of funding an early completion, the potential payback and savings are too significant to ignore.