Corridor H Authority requests governor expedite highway’s completion

KERENS, W.Va. — Business, community and economic development leaders have joined together to present a plan to complete Corridor H 16 years earlier than anticipated.

Local leaders and other interested parties called on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to approve a Public-Private Partnership plan which would allow the Weston-to-Virginia road to be constructed by 2020, rather than 2036.

“With the current funding mechanism, we have to sit around and wait for the allocation from the feds to build and build and build while costs go up and up and up, and then we start construction again,” Robbie Morris, Randolph County Development Authority Executive Director and Corridor H Authority Chair said. “This would just get it all done. It’s a fantastic plan.”

It has only recently that such a plan has been an option after Senate Bill 190 took effect on July 1, 2013, allowing the DOH to begin projects sooner by working with contractors to create a payment plan rather than having to make the entire payment up front.

The method is currently being used to construct the Coalfields Expressway in southern West Virginia and Route 35 in Putnam and Mason Counties.

The Corridor H Authority hopes Gov. Tomblin will quickly approve a P3 financing plan to begin construction on the approximately 13 percent of unfunded road remaining from Kerens to Front Royal, Virginia, which has a large inland port facility that can link manufacturers in the state to East Coast markets and global shipping.

The authority conducted a study to determine what areas would be able to reach this new port using the corridor with a 3.5 hour drive time, one hour unloading time and 3.5 hour return time.

According to Morris, this study determined those areas would include the Kanawha Valley, the Northern Panhandle and the I-79 Tech Corridor “Which currently have to go to either Baltimore, which is a heavily congested port, or they just don’t have any options for exporting. Now they’ll have something that’s much closer and leads to a much more efficient port, which all means transportation costs go down, revenue goes up.”

Another study conducted in 2013 to evaluate the economic benefit of finishing the road by 2020 instead of 2036 would have an impact of $1.25 Billion to benefit the area served by the highway with construction pushing the total to over $2 Billion.

The reasoning behind the figures is based on the premise that it will take eight years to establish businesses along the corridor after completion.

“If we have to wait till 2036 to get that started, then you have another eight years after that to get going versus all of those jobs being here in 2020 to 2028,” Morris said. “The economic impact just goes substantially higher [with a 2020 completion].”

At Tuesday’s press conference held where Corridor H currently ends, Morris believes if Tomblin were to approve the project, there would be little difficulty in getting a private construction company to put a bid on the approximately $700 million endeavor.

“I believe they would be very interested in it,” he said. “They’re working is some of the most beautiful areas on a well-known project and contractors that have already done sections of Corridor H, I’ve heard from them they’re very proud of the work they’ve done. I think this project would bend their ear.”

The Authority also stated, with funds already available, they would be able to pay back the company’s investment back in 10 years.