The long-delayed Parsons-Davis section of Appalachian Corridor H resumed Tuesday with a public informational workshop at Blackwater Falls State Park and the start of a 30-day public comment.
But don’t expect to drive the 10-mile stretch of new highway through some of the most rugged terrain found along the 120-mile length of Corridor H anytime soon.
While personnel from the West Virginia Division of Highways and the Federal Highway Administration have begun coordinating with regulatory agencies to begin updating needed environmental and engineering studies for the stretch of new four-lane, completion of the project remains distant.
According to a handout prepared for those attending Tuesday’s meeting, final design for the missing link in the freeway is not expected to be completed until 2025, with construction tentatively scheduled to begin in 2031, followed by completion in 2036.
Environmental studies and routing alternatives for the Parsons-Davis section were initially completed in 2002, and that work was augmented with additional engineering and environmental assessments in 2003-04. In 2006, work to determine the project’s effects on West Virginia northern flying squirrels, then listed as an endangered species, was completed and, the following year, a preferred alternative for the alignment of the highway was identified.
In 2008, though, further work on the segment was put on hold while construction focused on the eastern end of Corridor H, which, by 2016, was complete from Wardensville, in Hardy County, to Davis. Construction is now in progress on a 6.2-mile section linking Parsons with Kerens, in Randolph County. When that link is completed, travelers will be able to drive from Weston to Parsons on the highway.
Corridor H is one of six divided, four-lane highways authorized for construction in West Virginia by the Appalachian Regional Commission back in 1965. It is the only corridor yet to be completed — in the state or in the nation. Initial construction began from the western terminus of the route — Interstate 79 at Weston — in 1974.
After conservationists took issue with initial plans to route the highway east of Elkins along the general alignment of U.S. 33 through Harman and Seneca Rocks, the highway took a northerly turn at the western outskirts of Elkins. From there, the highway was routed through Kerens and Parsons in order to reach Davis, and then proceed through Mount Storm and Moorefield to its eastern terminus at the Virginia border.
Under the preferred alternative for the route, drafted in 2007, the corridor link would parallel and criss-cross U.S. 219 east of Parsons, provide a new access road to Tucker County High School, cross Blackwater Canyon via a new bridge, pass just south of Thomas and connect with the completed eastern section of the corridor just northeast of Davis. The project would include a new bypass, to keep trucks heading north on U.S. 219 out of Thomas.
To complete the highway, now in its 54th year, before its current completion estimate of 2036 “will take money,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who spent Tuesday touring Appalachian Regional Commission projects with ARC co-chairman Tim Thomas.
Capito recently introduced a bill, included in the Senate’s new America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, that would allow ARC states that have completed their Appalachian corridor highway projects and have leftover funds, to transfer those funds to the Corridor H project. In return, those states would be reimbursed with a like amount of federal highway money for use on active projects.
The remaining West Virginia Appalachian Corridor link yet to reach the final design stage is the 6.8 segment between Wardensville and the Virginia border. Design work is scheduled to begin next year, with construction to start in 2027. The corridor was planned to end near Strasburg, Virginia, and link with Interstates 81 and 66.
To date, Virginia has announced no plans to build its section of Corridor H.