Study says speedy completion of Corridor H worth $1.25 billion to state

Chip Ellis
Steve Foster, chairman of the Corridor H Authority, speaks outside the state Capitol on Monday afternoon.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A study released on Monday by a group pushing for the completion of Corridor H claims that completing the long-planned, east-west four-lane across north-central West Virginia in 2020 instead of the current projected completion date of 2036 would generate an extra $1.25 billion in revenue for the state.The study was modeled on similar Appalachian Regional Commission-related studies dealing with highways operating within the 13-state ARC region, taking into account projected economic growth, savings on insurance, travel-time savings and other factors.The $1.25 billion in revenue identified in the study, conducted for the Corridor H Authority by the RQA Group, does not include economic impact produced by roadway construction, which would add another $800 million to the state's economy, according to the authority. All estimates are made in 2013 dollar values, so inflation is not a factor in the $1.25 billion projection."This is an important study, because it quantifies what many of us have felt was the case all along," Corridor H Authority Chairman Steve Foster said in a prepared statement. "The study gives us numbers to offer government agencies and elected officials that tell all of us in a clear way what Corridor H will do for us."Corridor H Authority spokesman Curtis Wilkerson said members of the Legislature were given copies of the study's conclusions on Monday."I think the will in the Legislature is there" to speed up completion of the highway, Wilkerson said. "Everyone seems to realize the importance of what's at stake."Corridor H construction is now being financed to the tune of $40 million per year, with $32 million coming from federal sources and the rest from the state.  Since the cost of Corridor H construction averages nearly $25 million per mile due to mountainous terrain and numerous stream crossings, and since 32 miles of corridor are yet to be built, the estimated completion date for the freeway under its current financing scheme is 2036.
The Corridor H Authority would like to see the state sponsor a bond issue that would make construction funds available immediately, and use money pledged to the project by the federal government to pay down the bond debt."Many of us have said all along that Corridor H is critical to the economic future of North-Central West Virginia and the Potomac Highlands," Foster said. "By extension, the highway is important to the entire state."Wilkerson said support is building in Virginia for completion of Corridor H, since plans call for the highway to extend 12 miles into the Old Dominion from the West Virginia border near Wardensville.The Virginia link of the highway would make possible an uninterrupted link across north-central West Virginia to Virginia's Inland Port complex at Front Royal, where export items could be loaded into double-stacked rail containers and shipped to the Port of Norfolk.In 2010, $85 million worth of West Virginia hardwood products were sold abroad, Wilkerson said.So far, 97.2 miles of Corridor H is open to traffic. A section of new highway between Mount Storm and Davis is expected to open next spring.Corridor H Authority officials held press conferences outlining the findings of the RQA Group study in Buckhannon, Charleston and Winchester, Va., on Monday.Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.
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