U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is asking Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to add the King Coal Highway project to West Virginia’s six-year highway improvement plan. It is a logical request, and one that Tomblin should act promptly on.
The Coalfields Expressway project is already included in West Virginia’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, but the King Coal Highway — the local route of the future Interstate 73/74 corridor — is not included in the six-year plan. But it most certainly should be. Being in the state’s six-year plan would make the project eligible for additional state and federal funding, including future TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants. Getting the King Coal Highway in the six-year transportation plan also would help in terms of jump-starting the long-delayed Mercer County section of this vital future four-lane corridor.
Construction on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County has been stalled since 2008. The future interstate corridor currently comes to an abrupt end on the side of a mountain near Stoney Ridge and the Mercer Mall. At the moment, we simply have a bridge to nowhere in Mercer County. And that does no one any good. We need a useable segment of the King Coal Highway in Mercer County. And we need it soon.
In the letter to Tomblin, Rahall said members of the King Coal Highway Authority have proposed a plan that involves the construction of two-lanes as opposed to four lanes — at least temporarily — in Mercer County in hopes of getting the project back under construction. It is estimated that it will take $66 million to build a useable segment of the interstate from its existing termination point at Stoney Ridge, near the Mercer Mall, to Route 123, near the Mercer County Airport. The cost of that could be cut nearly in half by building — at least initially — two-lanes instead of four-lanes.
While we would certainly prefer all four-lanes to be constructed at once, all options must remain on the table when it comes to finding a way to get this long-delayed project back under construction — even if that means building only two lanes initially.
Tomblin has long promised to support the King Coal Highway. Now is an ideal time for him to make good on that pledge. Members of the King Coal Highway authority board also are urging Tomblin to act on Rahall’s request in a timely manner. We see no reason why Tomblin shouldn’t honor Rahall’s request.
As we have repeatedly said it will take help on the local, state and federal level to get the King Coal Highway project moving again. And now is the time for the state to step up and assist. We expect to hear from Tomblin soon. The quicker we get the King Coal Highway included in the state’s six-year plan, the better our chances of seeing some movement on the project in Mercer County.
— Bluefield Daily Telegraph