Our economy has gone global. That includes West Virginia’s economy — one built around coal, gas, timber and manufacturing. But to participate in a global economy, West Virginia must have access to international ports.
When the Panama Canal expansion is completed soon, deep-draft Asian ships will have an entirely different access to the East Coast. They will bring goods to America, and their hulls will be filled with American products to return to Asia — and more specifically, China.
However, the only port that can currently handle the deeper-draft ships from Asia is Norfolk, Va. It is that reason why the U.S. Navy utilized this port for its own fleet. Norfolk will be at the front and center of global trade between the United States and Asia — and West Virginia must have access to it to get our own products to market.
The Port of Norfolk is connected by double-stacked container rail to the Virginia Inland Port at Front Royal, Va., close to the convergence I-66 and I-81. And when finished, Corridor H will come into I-81 just a few short miles away.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has already announced that it will complete the Old Dominion’s section of Corridor H in the next 10 years. However, 90 percent of the highway is on our side of the border. Of West Virginia’s section, three-quarters is already complete or just finishing construction.
So how does this affect Kanawha County?
The magic number for transportation of cargo is a 3.5-hour drive time to a port. That allows a driver to travel to the port, drop the load and return, all within an eight-hour workday. And with the completion of Corridor H, Kanawha County will be within that 3.5-hour drive time of a major port.
Actually, the completion of Corridor H will bring a lot of areas within 3.5 hours of the Virginia Inland Port. Counties as far west as Wood and as far south as Raleigh will have a half-day drive to an inland port to distribute their products around the world.
This easier access to global markets will spur economic development. If Corridor H is completed by 2020, instead of the current estimated date of 2036, it would add $1.25 billion — money that would otherwise be lost forever — to the economy in just those 16 years. And that figure is without the additional benefit of construction itself, which would push the total to more than $2 billion!
West Virginia cannot wait for economic growth. We have far too many young people who have left our borders in search of new opportunities – because we have not finished the projects right in front of us that will help the most.
Corridor H is the very last of the Appalachian Corridors to be completed in West Virginia. Corridor D (U.S. 50 from Clarksburg to Cincinnati), Corridor E (I-68 from Morgantown to Cumberland), Corridor G from (Charleston to Pikeville, KY), Corridor L (U.S. 19 from I-79 to Beckley), and Corridor Q (Mercer County) have each provided much needed transportation opportunities to our state. Finishing Corridor H will complete the Mountain State’s section of the 3,090-mile Appalachian Development Highway System.
Corridor H is a beautiful highway that stretches from I-79 to the far side of Elkins, in the community of Kerens. But then it becomes a two-lane road, one in which trucks and commerce cannot easily travel to the next section of four-lane highway. Once current construction at Davis is complete, that section will take travelers all the way to Wardensville, only six miles from the Virginia border. We simply need to complete the middle of Corridor H and connect the eastern end to Virginia’s planned section. This will fulfill the promise to the people of West Virginia that was first made 50 years ago.
Leaders and citizens from across our entire region are respectfully asking Gov. Tomblin and the state of West Virginia to finish this long-overdue highway through the use of a Public Private Partnership similar to what is being used to complete Route 35 in Putnam County. Together, we can bring $1.25 billion to our economy and move West Virginia forward.
Robbie Morris is chairman of the Corridor H Authority.