Corridor H’s finish could spur economy

Completing Corridor H early would have a huge impact on the economy throughout the entire state of West Virginia – and not just in the seven counties the highway passes through, Corridor H Authority Chairman Steve Foster said Monday.

Because of federal funding limitations, the projected completion date of Corridor H is 2036, but during a press conference at the Upshur County Regional Airport, Foster announced that an economic impact analysis found that a completion date of 2020 would introduce $1.25 billion in new economic revenue to the state when compared to the later completion date.

Assuming the highway would be completed early, the Regional Quantitative Analysis Group measured the impact of increased economic activity over the years between 2020 and 2036.

“It’s a huge economic impact, and it’s one that I think, in terms of investment and building a new road, will pay significantly high dividends,” Foster said. “There’s not too many places where you can get that type of return on your money. That’s the type of information we feel is going to be needed by entities like the (West Virginia) State Legislature and the federal government to make decisions.”

Foster and Curtis Wilkerson, with Orion Strategies, flew from the Upshur Regional Airport to the West Virginia State Capitol building and then to an airport in Winchester, Va., to present the findings of the analysis Monday, and to push for an early completion of Corridor H.

“We’ve been trying to get this road built and continue to push hard by 2020 as opposed to a 2034-36 time frame,” Foster said.

Currently, 75 percent of Corridor H is either open or under construction, and 87 percent of the highway is expected to be complete over the next several years, according to information provided at Monday’s press conference. By the end of 2013, drivers will be able to travel 97.2 miles of the 134 miles of Corridor H. About 31.9 miles, or 24.8 percent, is yet to be completed, leaving gaps between Kerens and Davis, and between Wardensville and Front Royal, Va. Construction continues near Scherr and Davis.

“This really gives us east/west access in West Virginia for the first time,” Foster said, adding that Corridor H could cut time off of trips to Virginia and Maryland, bring more business to the state and provide a safer, more efficient route for larger trucks.

When finished, Corridor H will function as a link between West Virginia and the Inland Port in Front Royal, Va. From the Inland Port, double-stacked rail containers make their way to the Port of Norfolk, Va., which is one of the nation’s busiest and deepest ports. That connection will dramatically increase West Virginia export potential, according to information provided Monday.

“This is an important study, because it quantifies what many of us have felt was the case all along,” Foster said in a press release. “We’re not surprised in the least that the state would benefit by a billion and a quarter dollars if we finish Corridor H in what we think is a timely manner.”

Wilkerson said an additional $800 million could be saved in the overall construction costs with an early completion of Corridor H.

“We felt it was important to see hard data that shows just what we could miss out on if we don’t get this highway completed,” Foster added. “Throw in the $800 million we could save on construction costs and I think people can see why finishing this now makes sense.”

The projected economic impact includes growth in many industries, including oil and gas, mining, forestry, agriculture, utilities, construction, manufacturing, retail and wholesale, transportation and warehousing, finance, insurance, real estate, business support services, education, health care, social services, government, and media and information. This growth would also add about 534 more jobs to the state for each year in the 17-year time frame included in the analysis, Foster said.

“It’s just getting access to the money,” Foster said, adding that the access to money to fund the highway has been the cause for its delay. “It’s so close now you can almost taste it. You can almost smell it. You can almost see it.”

The analysis, developed by Dale P. Shannon and the Regional Quantitative Analysis Group and modeled on a similar Appalachian Regional Commission-related study, also shows the 11 counties that would be most affected by an early completion date include Barbour, Grant, Hardy, Harrison, Lewis, Pendleton, Preston, Randolph, Taylor, Tucker and Upshur counties.