With $5.25 billion in upgraded locks, the Panama Canal expansion just opened this past week after a massive project that widened and deepened the transcontinental shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. For the first time, a 158-foot wide, 984-foot long Chinese owned container ship passed through the canal — headed to the East Coast of the United States.
Not all East Coast ports will be able to handle the new, deeper draught ships from Asia — but Norfolk can. And that is why West Virginia should care. Because when finished, Corridor H will connect West Virginia to the Virginia Inland Port at Front Royal — where double-stacked container rail connects directly to Norfolk and then to the global market.
In 1965, Congress authorized the Appalachian Development Highway to connect Appalachia to the rest of the world with limited access four-lane highways. Some of those corridors have now become interstate highways. From Maine to Alabama, these roads have opened commerce to the people, businesses and mountains of Appalachia. They were designed for only one purpose — to open the entire region to more economic development opportunities.
Corridor H is the last of the Appalachian Development Highway System in West Virginia. The highway stretches 130 miles from I-79 at Weston and the Virginia border, where it is designed to travel an additional 13 miles to I-81. Total completion of this project will help to create billions of dollars of exported goods from the region through the inland port at Front Royal. The highway in West Virginia is currently 82 percent complete or under construction. There has been some great work with the project to get it so close to its completion stage in West Virginia.
A three-mile section of the 15-mile Moorefield to Forman segment opened to traffic in November 2005. This extended the highway west to end at U.S. 220 just north of Moorefield. The remaining 12 miles of this section opened to traffic on October 27, 2010. The remainder of the 14.5-mile Forman-to-Bismarck (west-to-east) section opened to traffic in late 2013.
The newest completed section of Corridor H was celebrated by West Virginia Division of Highways during a ribbon cutting on November 18, 2015 near Buffalo Coal Road close to the Tucker/Grant County line not far from Mount Storm. The next section all the way to Davis, West Virginia, will be open this summer.
Last October, the state Division of Highways awarded a contract for the 7.5 mile stretch from Kerens to the 219 Connector. The Kerens to Parsons section of Corridor H is approximately 15.5 miles and the Division of Highways is planning on completing this section in three segments with the first segment being 7.5 miles, the second segment being approximately 3.4 miles, and the third segment being approximately 4.6 miles. Currently the Kerens to Parsons section is estimated to be completed in 2019.
A 2013 economic impact study showed that completing Corridor H by 2020 instead of West Virginia’s original goal of 2036 would create a $1.25 billion benefit to the area served by the highway, and it is estimated that construction itself will put that total to over $2 billion. This road means more than just being connected; it’s about being connected to jobs and opportunity.
West Virginia needs to complete Corridor H now, because last week a 158-foot wide, 984-foot ship passed through the Panama Canal, unloaded its cargo on the East Coast, and West Virginia didn’t have a cost effective way to get its products to market.
Robbie Morris is president of the Corridor H Authority.