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Federal funding key to Corridor H completion in West Virginia

This Jan. 10, 2013, aerial photo shows a section of the Corridor H roadway that travels through Buckhannon, W.Va. Construction on the Appalachian Corridor is ongoing, and according to the Corridor H Authority, 87 percent will be under construction by 2018. The authority believes the roadway could be completed by 2020. (Associated Press: ANTHONY GAYNOR/The Inter-Mountain)

By KATIE KUBA
The Associated Press

1/28/2013

ELKINS, W.Va.  — The completion of Corridor H might seem miles away to some West Virginians, but Jim Strader is banking on it being done sooner rather than later.

Strader owns Buccaneer Enterprises, a flat-bed general freight trucking company located along Old Route 33 in Buckhannon, and says the road will contribute significantly to the betterment of his business.

"Basically, if Corridor H was finished all the way through to I-81 like it's planned, we would save thousands of dollars a year in diesel," Strader said.

Corridor H's completion would also slice time out of his truckers' trips to the nation's capital and northward — and Buccaneer Enterprises makes about 80-some such trips per week, Strader said.

"If Corridor H was complete, it would cut at least an hour off the trip to (Washington) D.C., and that's just one way," Strader said.

Strader's vision of running his company more efficiently in a future where Corridor H is finally finished is no longer a pipe dream, but a promise that's currently being fulfilled, according to economic development officials in central West Virginia.

In fact, the road is slated to be 75 percent complete in the Mountain State by the end of 2013, a fact many people in Randolph, Tucker and many other counties may not realize, said Robbie Morris, executive director of the Randolph County Development Authority.

"Unless you make regular trips to the Eastern Panhandle or to the D.C. and Baltimore area, you don't really see it," Morris said. "People view the progress on the Corridor from where it stands at Kerens, and nothing's being done from Kerens to Parsons... but that doesn't mean nothing's being done."

The Inter-Mountain recently had the opportunity to witness the progress firsthand during a helicopter flyover that followed the Corridor from Mount Storm in Grant County to the town of Davis in Tucker County.

Most of the current construction work visible from the air is concentrated near Mount Storm where backhoes, dozers and other pieces of heavy equipment dot the landscape. Along Route 93, there are several places where forest has been cleared to make way for the highway. Buttresses for bridges are beginning to come together, and several bridges have decks installed and are nearing completion. As the road snakes its way around mountains near Scherr Mountain, the pathway for the future road is visible.

First proposed in 1964, the 143-mile long highway is the only leg of the federal Appalachian Corridor System — a network of roads designed to open Appalachia up to economic development — that has yet to be finished, according to information from the Corridor H Authority, a group advocating for the Corridor's completion.

Corridor H begins at the intersection of Interstate 79 and U.S. Route 33 near Weston and will end at the junction of Interstates 81 and 66 in Front Royal, Va. When finished, 130 miles of the road will wind through West Virginia and the final 13 will cover ground in Virginia. If current funding levels remain the same, Corridor H will be done by 2034, but the Corridor H Authority believes it can — and must — be completed by 2020.

After all, 87 percent of the road will be under construction by 2018, the Corridor H Authority notes on its website, www.corridorh2020.com.

The major economic advantage of building the highway sooner rather than later lies in the fact that once done, it will link exporters in West Virginia directly to the Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal, Va. From there, double-stack rail service is capable of chaffeuring large freight containers to the Norfolk International Terminals, the deepest port on the eastern coast of the United States.

"Anybody that has any product that is being exported would be able to benefit from Corridor H being complete," said Steve Foster, chairman of the Corridor H Authority and executive director of the Upshur County Development Authority. "Any distributer that needs access to the Northeast is also going to benefit."

Morris said the wood products industry is the number one Elkins-area industry that would be bolstered by a finished Corridor H.

"The price of our product is extremely good, if not better, than in other areas of the country, but where the problem comes in is with transportation costs," Morris said. "It takes so much more money to get over the mountains now, and that's where we lose our competitive advantage. The Corridor is going to save major dollars in diesel fuel and truck maintenance, and that will allow us to be more competitive in a global market."

Foster and Morris also count tourism and higher education among the industries that will profit.

"This is going to open up our state and allow people to see the beauty that they might not otherwise see," Morris remarked. "This road literally goes through the most beautiful part of the state ... you have Potomac Highlands, the Allegheny Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. (Corridor H) is going to put you on top so you can see the majesty of what we have."

So, what will it actually take to put down the pavement?

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, says dollars are key.

"Now, what it's going to take to complete the project is federal funding," Barnes told The Inter-Mountain recently. "That is the most critical area. We as a state and we as a state government have been willing and able to provide a state match to any federal funds that come in."

Barnes said the speed at which Corridor H is constructed depends on federal legislators' ability to pass special appropriations bills.

"Certainly, the completion (of Corridor H) is vital for the economy of this area," Barnes said. "I believe the vast majority of people are very supportive of having it completed, and those folks need to certainly keep it before their elected officials, from the county level, right up to the national level."

Strader, the truck company owner, believes doing so will have a big payback.

"When this road is finished, it's going to help all businesses along the Corridor, even motels and gas stations," he said. "The whole southern part of the state is going to be driving up 79 and then going east on the Corridor instead of continuing north up to 68."

Foster expressed the same sentiment simply: "We've been waiting 50 years for this highway," he said. "It's all about jobs. It's all about time. If you build it, they will come."

Katie Kuba writes for The Inter-Mountain

The Inter-Mountain Night Editor Anthony Gaynor contributed to this report.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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