WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said funding for King Coal Highway, the Coalfields Expressway and other vital road projects in the state will be part of a federal infrastructure package.

“Those two highways are critically needed,” he said, during a virtual press conference Wednesday. “That is one of the biggest priorities we have.”

Manchin said King Coal and Coalfields Expressway, Corridor H and other badly needed projects that have been delayed for years must be completed.

“They are very important for West Virginia to be able to connect our whole state and have opportunity for growth,” he said.

Manchin said the cost to finish both of these highways as well as Corridor H and other needed projects is estimated between $25 billion and $30 billion.

How much of that will be included in the proposed $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan is not yet known, he said, but he will only support a plan that focuses on overall transportation infrastructure, including highways, bridges, rail, airports, as well as broadband, water and sewer.

“I want to make sure it’s a good infrastructure bill, and I mean infrastructure,” he said, adding that $2.3 trillion price tag will not stand though.

Other items proposed, as the bill reads now, would need to be in separate legislation, he said, with many of those items recently described by his colleague, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), as “social infrastructure.”

Manchin also said no bill has actually been introduced, only an outline of proposals, so Democrats and Republicans have the opportunity to work together and craft an infrastructure bill.

“God help us all if we can’t come together on infrastructure,” he said.

Manchin also said infrastructure projects bring jobs and “it is a tremendous jobs bill by itself,” but he cautioned that the state should be prepared for the bill and the funding by planning and making sure regional planning commissions reach out to communities and pinpoint where work is needed on things like broadband, water and sewer.

“This is going to happen,” he said of an infrastructure package. “We are going to be able to have a chance to revitalize West Virginia, especially the coal communities … They will not be left behind.”

Priorities need to be set, he said.

Manchin also said the permitting process for infrastructure projects needs be streamlined or it will take extra years to get the work done.

“We have to accelerate the permitting for projects,”he said, “or it will be 10 years before they get started. We will use every excuse in the book not to do something. We have to accelerate the permitting process if you are serious about infrastructure in America.”

Manchin also expressed concern about a piece of the transportation component related to electric vehicles.

“I am not against electric vehicles,” he said, but the components needed for those and other clean energy parts are mostly made in China.

“We don’t control the supply chain,” he said, and those needed components should be made in this country.

Regardless of what infrastructure plan eventually passes, it must be done in a bipartisan way, Manchin said.

“It has got to be bipartisan. We cannot let this country be divided more.”

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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