MORGANTOWN, W.Va. When Joe Manchin exits the United States Senate, the next senator from West Virginia will have big shoes to fill.

On WAJR’s “Talk of the Town,” he cited the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, but said the state has garnered hundreds of millions in grants through the work of Manchin and U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

“We’re the only two senators in the United States Senate out of 100 senators that both of us sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee,” Manchin said. “So, it gives us an advantage when we identify something as a high-priority need or priority for our state. We can make that happen.”

The recent announcement of $54.3 million for the Chaplin Hill Gateway Project at exit 155 off I-79 was important news for the community, but it also put the status of the proposed Harmony Grove interchange off I-79 four miles away in question. During legislative interim testimony, DOH Secretary Jimmy Wriston signaled the same by saying increased scrutiny of the project at the federal level would not surprise him.

“We’re just looking at it to make sure it is still in the mix; they can’t just take that out and say that’s not part of it,” Manchin said. “We still think the Harmony Grove interchange will better serve not only the industrial park but also its growth potential.”

The Chaplin Hill Gateway project includes a flyover for easier access to Route 19 and new I-79 bridges over Chaplin Hill Road, digital information signs, and a bicycle/pedestrian connection between the Star City bridge and the Mon River Rail Trail system that will include access to Mylan Park.

“It will be a primary connection from I-79 to Morgantown, Star City, Granville, and West Virginia University,” Manchin said.

The Chaplin Hill Gateway was discretionary spending or an earmark. In recent years, the earmark has been criticized as a source of wasteful spending, but Manchin says that is not the case.

“We identify what it’s going to be used for and the purpose of it, and we hold people accountable,” Manchin said.

Manchin said they do more to prevent wasteful spending by working directly with municipalities instead of relying on federal government workers. Rather than developing a justification based on a government evaluation, Manchin said they better serve communities and make better use of taxpayer dollars by making face-to-face contact.

“We can do a better job of working directly with Monongalia County, Morgantown, and everybody else than in a bureaucratic agency setting in Washington, D.C., making determinations of who gets what,” Manchin said. “They have no idea what the needs are or the growth potential.”