Friday, March 13, 2009

'Road to nowhere,' as CNN calls it, gets more money in latest appropriations bills

Nearly 44 years ago, Congress created the Appalachian Regional Commission and laid out a network of highways to open it up to commerce, tourism and development. Most of the roads are built. One, across the Eastern Continental Divide, will probably never be completed, because Virginia doesn't want it built. But that hasn't stopped Congress from funding sections of it in West Virginia, most recently in the economic stimulus package and the omnibus spending bill that became law this week.

The route is Corridor H, intended to link Interstates 79 and 81 (New York Times map) and give West Virginia a direct route to the east coast over the Allegheny Mountains. It has faced huge engineering and environmental challenges and consumed $1.5 billion in a series of contracts, some for a route that was later abandoned (US 33 east of Elkins). "It's not projected to be complete until 2035," and unless Virginia relents would end 10 miles west of the state line, report Drew Griffin and Steve Turnham of the CNN Special Investigations Unit, which dubbed it "West Virginia's road to nowhere." John Wickline of The Inter-Mountain in Elkins reports that "14 miles of the Corridor are under construction and final environmental and design work has started on another 30 miles." Design on an environmentally sensitive stretch in Tucker County is not slated to begin until 2025, with constrcution in 2031.

The road seemed dead until U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd became chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 1990 and started funneling money to it. Virginia decided in 1995 that it would not build the far eastern leg, but money kept flowing. Byrd got $9.5 million in this week's omnibus bill for a section between Davis and Forman. The $21 million in stimulus money will be used for two bridges near the midpoint of the route in Grant County, Wickline reported March 7. He wrote, "The highway has been called one of the 27 worst road projects in the country by critics, who sponsor a Web site and speak out online at http://www.taxpayers.net/." (Read more)

6 comments:

Jonathan said...

There's no question a whole bunch of money has been spent on Corridor H. However, there is a reason that the ARC has targeted Appalachian highway corridors from Maine to Alabama. Without reasonable infrastructure, it is difficult for many areas in Appalachia to bring in the kinds of commerce that help communities grow (tourism, manufacturing, etc.).

To say that Corridor H is a road to nowhere is disingenuous at best. Try traveling from Charleston, WV to Washington D.C. in any kind of direct line. Ain't gonna happen. Take a trip from Elkins to Moorefield on US 33 and WV 55 or from Bluefield to Williamson on US 52 and you begin to see the issues.

The challenge is balancing the needs of communities with environmental stewardship. It is possible to have both, but it takes a whole lot of cooperation and consensus-building.

L. Heydenreich said...

It is important to understand that this road had been on the drawing board for decades. Construction was placed on the fast track after 9-11. The road, when completed (if it ever is), is meant to evacuate Washington and/or Baltimore in case of a terrorist attack or a powerful hurricane. The sad thing is, the county where it enters West Virginia only has 8,000 people. There is no provisions for the people there to take care of the hundreds of thousands of people that would come into our part of rural West Virginia in case of such an unfortunate event.

What I noticed is the comment by CNN about "improverished" West Virginia. The fact is, WV is only one of three states right now with a balanced budget and has an unemployment rate way below the national average. To continue to trot out the "poor Appalachian" garbage does not help the situation. The part of the state that Corridor H is being built in is a farming area with little poverty.

Living in Hardy County where the reporter stood in the middle of Corridor H and pointed out there was no traffic, I find that humorous. Try being in the road when hundreds of thousands of tourists crowd the road every week-end from the eastern seaboard. The reporter would have needed to stand for a long time to get such a picture.

Fact is, most of the locals here would have been happy if this road had never been built. This road was built for the betterment of the DC beltway population. It does precious little for the area where the road is being built unless it is completed by Virginia. And, although I am a West Virginian, I understand why Virginia does not want it. The road in Virginia is an excellent road as is and can be used as an evacuation route except for the mountain on the West Virginia border.

I am convinced that Appalachia as a whole and West Virginia in particular is open season for reporters who want to make us something that we are not. Enough is enough.

Al Cross said...

The DC-evacuation scenario seems to be touted only by West Virginia supporters of Corridor H. Virginia residents would be the evacuees, but the Commonwealth is still opposed to building the road. I have long thought that Virginia should reconsider its opposition, but its road needs are so great, especially in the D.C.-Richmond corridor, that officials in the Old Dominion just don't want to add another very expensive project that would serve relatively few Virginians except in a disaster.

Henry Hodges said...

I cannot blame the attitude in Virginia concerning this, although I would like to see the road completed. Both U.S. 50 and the present Interstate 66 situation could feed into the completed Corridor H as is.
The problem is, at least for me, what are we in West Virginia going to do when all of these people get here? We do not have the facilities to take care of thousands of refugees, not that we would not try.

I understand the finacial problems that the nation is having, and understand why Corridor H would come under fire. They way CNN handled this story was most unfortunate, however. This road will be a great economic help to our region. It will remain so if Virginia completes its section or not. If the federal government really plans to evacuate Washington in case of a disaster, Interstate 68 into Western Maryland and West Virginia could already serve that purpose.

Again, one more "poor West Virginia" story and I will probably disconnect my television. I guess CNN does not realize how much "poverty" there is in their own backyard in Georgia. I support the completeion of Corridor H where construction is now going on and hold the rest of the project until the economy is better nationwide. However, without planning for a disaster in DC, this road would be useless in a disaster. You can't get out of Washington during rush hour now.

To Al Cross: The really interesting thing is to check out about six miles of six lane highway going into Elkins, West Virginia on the east side on U.S. 33. That was the original Corridor H. After starting contruction, the federal government changed its mind and started building it in a more northern location. If CNN wants to see a road to nowhere, they should check this boondoggle out. The road does not even go into Elkins, it is just six lanes of pristine highway in the middle of nowhere serving nothing. And this construction was in the 1970's.

Right now, most of the traffic on the new Corridor H is being used be people from Virginia, DC, and Maryland heading to tourist destinations. Many locals still use old Rt. 55. This road, if completed, has great potential for both Virginia and West Virginia, as it would link up with Interstate 79 to Pittsburgh, Ohio by 77, ect. I don't know if it should be judged how it is completed right now, it would be like judging Interstate 64 in Virginia when it was being contructed to connect with 81....that road for a long time was also a "road to nowhere". It is not now.

In either case, Virginia will not complete Corridor H on their side as long as Congressman Wolfe is in office, and having talked to my Virginia friends just on the other side of their border, I understand their concerns about the economic impact that a new highway would have on businesses located right on old Rt. 55 and on such a beautiful, pristine area. I do have to be humored and critical at the same time at Virginia's contribution: placing U.S. Highway 48 signs on the Virginia side of the border on old route 55. It would be better if those signs were taken down rather than slapping the state of West Virginia in the face like that. If Virginia does not want to build their part of the road, fine, but that is openly insulting.

Please understand that those concerns were being expressed by locals in Hardy and Grant county before this road was constructed largely against the wishes of local people. The state government of West Virginia and the federal government wanted this road. Hardy County, WV remains a pristine farming area with good people. We did not deserve the insulting commentary from CNN.

Al Cross said...

Thanks for a great post, Henry. As luck would have it I will be in Elkins soon and will check out the REAL road to nowhere.

eric harger said...

I come to this discussion late in game, moving from Jefferson to Hampshire last year. I consider myself a strong enviromentalist. I was immeadiatly struck by the enormity of what had already been built and the ridiculous termination, both of the highway and the effort and treasury expended so far, of this skyhighway decapitated 10 miles from goal.
For building this highway without the I-66/I-81 connection is a folly of waste. But building another much larger highway through the GW National Forest is enviromental folly as well.
What if the last segment to Strasburg were by tunnel under the GW (and other historic sites)?
What if Virginia's agreement (or reagreement) included fed funding for a light rail to run inbetween the highway from it's current head at Manasas to Clarksburg using the H's enourmous median and grades? Would this satisfy enviromental concerns? (eco tourism by rail to WV, reduced emissions in GW on the current rt55, a shift in goods transport on 55/50 to light rail, a 'green' jump on other states with 2 major commuter routes available by rail from the Eastern Panhandle and the Potomac Highlands. A boost for ecotourism is in everyone's interest.