The Corridor H Authority hosted a groundbreaking ceremony Monday to officially recognize the start of construction for a 20-mile section of the highway linking Davis with Scherr Mountain.
The ceremony took place at the construction site, chosen to highlight the considerable progress made toward completion. When the Davis to Scherr Mountain section is finished, Corridor H will be 75 percent finished.
"I now believe in my gut that we're heading toward the home stretch," said Corridor H Authority President Steve Foster. "I don't want to lead anyone to believe that we don't have a few more hurdles to jump, but we've made great progress in the past few years and I honestly believe now that we can hit our goal of having this highway either completed or fully under construction by 2020. Three years ago, I never would have believed that possible.
The Inter-Mountain file photo by Anthony Gaynor
An aerial view shows from January shows the newest section of Corridor H to begin construction, between Davis and Scherr Mountain.
"The construction we are seeing right now is supposed to be finished next year," Foster said. "Then we have to finish the six miles to the Virginia state line. In 2010, Gov. (Joe) Manchin announced they would put 30 miles under construction. This is what you are seeing here."
In addition to increasing travel safety and allowing easier access to eastern West Virginia's tourist destinations, a completed Corridor H will tie West Virginia to the inland port in Front Royal, Va. From there, double-stacked rail containers can make their way to the port of Norfolk, one of the world's busiest and deepest ports. The link will dramatically increase West Virginia export potential.
"We've said all along that West Virginia needs Corridor H," Foster said. "We in north central West Virginia and the Potomac Highlands especially need completion of this highway. The future economic success of our region is tied to the completion of Corridor H."
Del. Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, who has been a strong supporter of the completion of Corridor H, said at Monday's ceremony it seems he's been working on the Corridor H issue "since I was a kid."
Anne Jones, executive director of the Tucker County Development Authority, said Corridor H completion is important for Tucker County.
"It's bringing people in to the county and bringing in businesses," Jones said. "This will allow a lot of people who want to live here in Tucker County (to have) jobs - and it will be quicker to get out to the cities.
"I am hoping for us to work together with other counties, and I think the road will help make our industrial park a great distribution site. You will be able to put anything in our industrial park and ship it straight to Virginia - from there it can be shipped straight out to Dulles Airport. Newport, Va., ships things straight out to Asia. It's going to be very big for our county and you'll also notice it this fall when the safety increases because of the new road."
Tucker County Commissioner Lowell Moore said completion of Corridor H is a must.
"We need completion for truck traffic hauling in and out of the area and for transportation," Moore said. "It will help with logging from Hinchcliff Lumber and charcoal from Kingsford. Time-wise, for general public travel, Corridor H has been an awful long time coming. We are looking forward to the completion."
Diane Hinkle, Tucker County commissioner, said Corridor H is important for the county for economics, tourism and the people who live in the area.
"For me, it's not just about the economic impact it is going to have. It is going to bring more tourism into the county and it's also about the people who already live here and stay here," Hinkle said.
"Corridor H will help develop our industrial park and it's our connection. I think it means everything to this community," Hinkle said. "The completion of Corridor H will keep our kids here and allow them to get local jobs. Tucker County is a unique area and we want to retain the character that draws everyone here. I grew up in Mt. Airy, Md., and watched it change when the roads came, one stop light at a time. This is an exciting time."
"I am excited about Corridor H and excited for what it's going to do for Tucker County," said Tucker County Commissioner Mike Rosenau. "It goes right by our industrial park. I am excited about what it will do to the lower end of the county by bringing people in and out of our area."
Foster said the group spoke about possible funding for the completion of Corridor H.
"We talked this morning about another section that is getting ready to be open for bid from Kerens to Parsons," Foster said. "We got an update from the state about what we need to do to make it quicker. We need to find a way to get more money. We will be reimbursed by the federal government at 100 percent but it's a reimbursement. The state has to have some up front money to spend and then they ask for reimbursement.
"So we have to figure out a way to work with the government and the Legislature to accelerate funding," he said. "We want to find a way to get Corridor H completed by 2020. Currently we are doing an economic study that explores the benefits of finishing the road in 2020 as opposed to 2035. We hope to share what that means in dollars and cents. The economic study should be completed by the end of the year, telling us about the economic contribution competing the Corridor earlier than 2035."
Construction has been active on Corridor H during the past three years. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, then governor, announced the completion of one major section of highway, as well as an aggressive financing plan that allowed construction to begin on significant portions of the highway between Davis and Moorefield. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has continued the support for an accelerated construction timetable.
The United States Surface Transportation bill, passed last year, made the Appalachian Corridor System, including Corridor H, a national priority. It also adjusted the portion of matching funds from 80 percent to a 100 percent share through 2021. Foster said he hopes this means Corridor H can be completed by 2020.
Additional information about Corridor H is available at www.corridorh2020.com.