Corridor H Progress
KERENS — Gov. Jim Justice joined close to 200 people in a Corridor H groundbreaking celebration Thursday near Kerens, using the opportunity to promote passage of the upcoming road bond referendum.
Justice said approving the Roads to Prosperity proposal during the statewide election Oct. 7 would “jump start” completion of Corridor H as well as other large and small projects across every section of West Virginia.
“I promise you, if we pass that road bond, we’ll hit the ground running like nobody’s business,” he said to the group of local residents, students, elected officials, construction workers and government representatives. He said passage of the initiative would create 48,000 new jobs right away.
Justice also said he expects President Donald Trump to send additional federal funding to complete the entire Corridor H project if West Virginians approve the bond referendum.
“There is no highway in this state as important as that highway right there, guaranteed,” Justice said, pointing to the beginning of the new section of Corridor H, which will span about 7.5 miles from Kerens to the U.S. 219 connector northeast of Montrose.
Justice said he’s an impatient person, and he doesn’t like seeing projects like Corridor H go on for decades without much progress.
He said it’s been “too long, too bloomin’ long, that’s all there is to it.”
Kokosing Construction Co. Inc., with offices in Ohio and West Virginia, was awarded the contract for the Kerens section in November 2015, and construction is expected to be completed by the fall of 2019, according to information from the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
Overall, the Corridor H project would stretch 130 miles from Interstate 79 at Weston to Hardy County, and then eventually continue 13 miles to Interstate 81 near the junction with Interstate 66. This would allow direct access to the large inland port at Front Royal, Virginia.
Justice said it will have a tremendous impact on the region’s economy and tourism industry.
“There’s so many things that are right at our fingertips,” he said.
Justice urged everyone to get out and vote, whether they support the bond referendum or not; but he said he truly believes this is the only way West Virginia can fill the “big hole in the budget bucket.”
“I am telling you, it’s the greatest opportunity that we’ve ever had,” he said, noting the bond referendum would make $1.6 billion available for road construction, improvement and expansion projects throughout West Virginia.
“There is no downside from a ‘yes’ vote; there is none. There is absolute catastrophe if there is a ‘no’ vote,” he added, explaining all the roads that already are in poor shape in every corner of the state will only continue to crumble, and more people will continue to leave to seek work in other states.
“Look out your car window — that’s what we have, and it’s only going to get worse” if the road bond fails, he said.
Another public official who spoke during Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony was Tom Smith, secretary of the WVDOT, who said every dollar invested in Corridor H brings at least $3 back into the state’s economy — a 3-to-1 return.
Smith also provided a brief history of the project and its supporters over the years, dating back to when President John F. Kennedy created a federal team to research the needs of Appalachian people. A 1964 report showed that a new highway system was needed to open up commerce and stimulate the flow of people and goods.
“It takes partnership and persistence to get a road like this built,” Smith said.
Other officials who shared remarks Thursday included Edward Stephen, West Virginia administrator of the Federal Highway Administration; Peggy Hawse, regional coordinator for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.; Todd Gunter, regional coordinator for U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Fred Joseph, district director for Congressman Alex Mooney, R-W.Va.; and Randy Damron of the WVDOT.
In welcoming everyone who attended the groundbreaking ceremony, Damron said it was a great day to celebrate such a beautiful, safe highway.
“It’s been years in the making, and you know, there’s light now at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Special music, including the national anthem and “Country Roads,” was sung by local singer Gracie Metheney, who is an eighth-grade student at Elkins Middle School.
Justice praised Metheny for her talent, asking her to remember him when she becomes famous someday.
The Rev. Jamie Estep of the Elkins Family Worship Center gave the invocation at the ceremony, and middle and high school students from Elkins Christian Academy attended the ceremony and met with Justice afterward.
A number of local officials also attended, including members of the Randolph and Tucker county commissions, Elkins City Council, the Randolph County Development Authority and others.
More information on the Roads to Prosperity bond referendum is available at transportation.wv.gov.