BISMARCK - The ribbon was cut on a new portion of Corridor H in Grant County Friday, and construction on the highway's completion continues ahead of schedule, state and local officials said.
The opening of the 4.7-mile section of Corridor H, connecting Bismarck to the Scherr WV-93 connector, was attended by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., as well as state Secretary of Transportation Paul Mattox.
This stretch of Corridor H was constructed at a cost of $65 million, and marks the completion of the Bismarck to Wardensville section of the road, according to a press release issued by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office.
With the opening of the new stretch, 91.8 miles of the highway in West Virginia are now finished; when complete, Corridor H will span 140 miles in West Virginia and Virginia.
"I think those people that may have been reluctant to go across the corridor to access western Virginia will find that this is the best route to go," Corridor H Authority President Steve Foster said Friday. "It will save people quite a bit of time and it's just one other step in getting this road complete. You can just see the possibilities of what it's going to mean getting this road done.
"It's a beautiful drive over there and just a huge impact," Foster added. "One more step in the completion of Corridor H and you can just visualize what this road is going to do."
The construction cost of the entire project to date has been $1.45 billion, according to Friday's press release. Complete will cost another estimated $1 billion.
"(Today's ribbon cutting) is significant for a number of reasons, one of which is the fact that the state is now letting the contracts come in larger chunks, which means larger sections of road will be constructed at a time," Robbie Morris, the executive director of the Randolph County Development Authority and the treasurer of the Corridor H Authority, said.
"(West Virginia) Secretary (of Transportation) Paul Mattox said today that what's been completed has been done two years earlier than expected, which will have saved the state approximately $23 million.
"That's huge, and in an overall picture, the pace is speeding up," Morris continued. "There's a lot of momentum right now to get it completed ahead of schedule and opening up a new section just keeps the momentum going, and keeps the excitement going. For the first time in 40 years, people are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel."
In addition to Manchin and Mattox, other dignitaries - including Federal Highway Administration Division Administrator Tom Smith - attended Friday's ribbon cutting.
Tomblin, who had planned to travel to the site via helicopter, was unable to appear due to inclement weather. However, he issued a statement via press release.
"The completion of this phase of the Corridor H project marks an exciting time for West Virginians," Tomblin stated. "For almost 40 years, this highway project has been recognized as one of the key factors in advancing our state's economic growth in the region.
"With today's announcement, we also begin construction on a new stretch of road slated to finish next fall. We are confident this project will open the door for new commerce and a wide range of additional economic development opportunities."
Another 16.2 miles is under construction from Davis to Bismark and is expected to open in the spring of 2015, Morris said.
"Now that the section from Bismarck to Davis is under construction, we can't let up. We have to keep pushing for the construction of the next section from Kerens to Parsons," Morris said.
To help complete part of the highway about eight years ahead of schedule, the West Virginia Department of Transportation announced the adoption of a new public-private partnership tool Monday that would help complete 10 miles of Corridor H from Kerens to Parsons, Foster said Thursday at a Create Buckhannon meeting.
"What they want to do is go out and offer out for bids to contracting firms who will design it, build it and finance it," Foster said, "so they're saying that four years from now, we could be driving across that section of road, yet we'll pay for it over 10 years.
"That's a new concept. A lot of the states have adopted this, but in West Virginia, it's the first time we've had a chance to do this. That's going to accelerate the completion of that highway by about eight years. That was good news."
Morris urged businesses and individuals to keep pushing for the completion of Corridor H.
"We can't let up on the pressure from the community, especially the business community," Morris said. "Keep talking to legislators both on the state and federal level and tell them that we need to get Corridor H completed as soon as possible."
Contact Melissa Toothman by email at mtoothman@theintermountain. com.