The Harrison County Commission has thrown its support behind a measure regional economic development leaders believe will speed up the completion of a four-lane highway they think is vital to the area's economy.
The Harrison County commissioners unanimously supported a resolution calling for public/private partnerships, including contractor financing, to be used in the construction of Corridor H, a four-lane highway connecting Interstate 79 in Weston to Front Royal, Va., the site of one of the nation's largest inland ports.
The controversial highway, whose life has seen more twists and turns than the mountain roads it seeks to replace, had originally been slated for completion in 2035. But Corridor H Authority director Steve Foster believes allowing for public/private partnerships could bring the road to completion by 2020.
“Public/private partnerships have taken an active role in helping promote the continued construction and completion of various corridors throughout the United States,” Foster stated in a letter to the Harrison County Commission. “We feel that through public/private partnerships and modern engineering and construction practices, Corridor H can be completed several years ahead of the current schedule.”
With current construction in the Potomac Highlands region of West Virginia ongoing, Corridor H will be about 75 percent complete by the end of 2013. The project received a boost last month when Virginia officials announced that state's portion of the highway will be done by 2026.
“In West Virginia, we're trying every way possible to get all construction underway as soon as possible,” Foster said. “One of our biggest stumbling blocks in the past has been the perception that Corridor H was not in Virginia's radar. Well, it's certainly on Virginia's radar, and we couldn't be more pleased.
Foster also noted that with the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2015, new markets will open up in Asia because of the larger ships more easily accessing the eastern United States.
“The completion of Corridor H will give the eastern half of the West Virginia access to the Virginia Inland Port, which has double-stack rail service to the largest, deepest port in the eastern United States at Norfolk,” he said.
Foster cited a recent economic study which indicated that the completion of Corridor H by 2020 in West Virginia by 2020 instead of 2035 or later could mean an impact of at least $1.254 billion. He said the construction alone could spur an additional $800 million in economic impact.
The concept of these Appalachian corridors began in 1965 with the implementation of the Appalachian Regional Development Act, which called for the construction of 23 highways throughout Appalachia. Six of those corridors pass through West Virginia, and five of those have already been completed – Corridor D, which follows U.S. 50 from Cincinnati to I-79 in Bridgeport; Corridor E, which is now Interstate 68 from Morgantown to Hancock, Md.; Corridor G, which is U.S. 119 from Charleston to Pikeville, Ky.; Corridor L, which is U.S. 19 from Beckley to Sutton; and Corridor Q, which runs from Christiansburg, Va., to Pikeville, Ky., by following Routes 52, 19 and 480 through southern West Virginia.
Corridor H was initially intended to connect I-79 in Weston to I-81 near Strasburg, Va. Construction began in 1974 near Weston, and engineers had proposed two routes. The road would follow U.S. 33 to Seneca Rock and then either cross the Shenandoah Mountains to New Market, Va., or follow Route 55 to Moorefield and then into Virginia.
Environmental and historical groups became concerned in the 1980s, saying the area around Shavers Fork needed protection from the construction and that the designers ignored the impact the highway could have on historical Civil War sites in Corricks Ford and Mooresville. A federal lawsuit was filed in 1995, but the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the state. A second lawsuit was filed in 1998, but was dismissed a year later.
Virginia officials announced in the mid-1990s that they were not interested in pursuing Corridor H in their state, but have since rethought that decision after seeing the economic boom it has brought to rural areas of West Virginia where the road has been completed.
Construction has been active on Corridor H during the past three years. U.S. Sen. ( and West Virginia Gov.) Joe Manchin 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.
Subsequent plans call for another section of highway to be completed in the next three years, which would increase the amount of finished highway to 87 percent.