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Corridor H proponents look to hasten project

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With Appalachian Corridor H now almost 75 percent open, development officials along the route of the 130-mile-long freeway are looking for ways to hasten its long-awaited completion date in an era of dwindling highway funds.

At Davis on Monday, the Corridor H Authority hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking for the construction of a 20-mile segment of the four-lane linking Davis to the Grant County community of Scherr. Work is already underway on that stretch of the highway, and should be complete by mid-2014.

But an estimated $830 million worth of additional construction remains to be done before Corridor H, first conceived in the 1960s, is complete from Interstate 79 at Weston to the Virginia border just east of Wardensville.

The national surface transportation bill passed last year made completion of Corridor H and other remaining Appalachian Corridor System highways a national priority. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin have supported an accelerated construction timetable. The result is a $40 million-per-year federal-state spending plan for the highway.

If the current spending formula remains in place, it will take until 2034 to complete Corridor H, Marvin Murphy, state highway engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways, told those attending a meeting preceding Monday's groundbreaking ceremony.

But Stephen Foster, of Buckhannon, president of the Corridor H Authority, said the highway could be completed by 2020 if a bond issue were to be floated to provide more construction cash up front and using the $40 million-a-year revenue stream to retire the bonds.

"We're going to do a study to show the difference in economic impact there will be between completing the highway in 2020 as opposed to 2035," Foster said. "I think you will see that there would be a huge benefit in building the highway sooner rather than later."

During Monday's meeting, it was announced that construction of a 10-mile segment of Corridor H linking the Tucker County towns of Davis and Parsons is scheduled to begin within the next two years -- three years ahead of a previous timetable.

"I now believe in my gut that we're heading down the homestretch," Foster said.

Murphy said after the meeting that even if all the funding needed to complete the project were now available, it would be difficult to build the highway by 2020 because of planning concerns and regulatory issues.

Foster said he has been told that highway officials in Virginia have submitted plans for constructing a 13-mile link of Corridor H that would extend from the West Virginia border to Interstate 81 near Strasburg, Va.

From Strasburg, trucks from Corridor H could travel another 12 miles east on Interstate 66 to reach Front Royal and the Virginia Inland Port, from which double-stacked rail containers make their way to Norfolk and one of the world's busiest ports.

"The people at Virginia Inland Port are pretty excited about Corridor H being completed," Foster said. "Wood products are one of the biggest items being shipped from there now."

Other Corridor H links still awaiting construction include the 6.8-mile stretch between Wardensville, in Hardy County, and the Virginia border, and the 15-mile segment between Kerens, in Randolph County, and Parsons.

Corridor H is complete from the Weston exit of I-79 to Kerens, a distance of about 41 miles. An additional 25 miles of the four-lane is open from Wardensville to a point near Scherr.

To reach the Canaan Valley Institute, the site of Monday's meeting and groundbreaking, "we had to cross the construction path for Corridor H," Foster said. "That's just a mile and a half out of Davis. It's exciting to think of the highway being open here within a year."

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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