By Charles Boothe
January 13, 2023 - Funding keeps trickling in on constructing the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway as different sections continue to be planned and work under way on others.
Part of the recent federal spending package (Omnibus bill) for fiscal year 2023 included $5 million for King Coal Highway and $1.5 million for Coalfields Expressway.
Jason Foster, deputy state highway engineer, said money for King Coal will be related to the intersection of that highway with the Coalfields Expressway as the two intersect in Wyoming County.
"On King Coal Highway, the funding will be used on the engineering phase of the King Coal/Coalfields Interchange to Mercer County section, which will connect communities which have battled connectivity issues for decades and open these areas up to economic development.," he said.
King Coal, which has a section from Bluefield to Airport Road almost finished, will proceed to cross Littlesburg Road and then the Montcalm area before exiting Mercer County and running along Indian Ridge in McDowell County. It will intersect with Coalfields Expressway about eight miles north of Northfork in Wyoming County at Rt. 16.
The distance King Coal will run from Airport Road to that intersection in Wyoming County is about 25 miles and no funding has yet been announced to construct any of those sections.
King Coal is part of the I-73 Corridor, which will run from Detroit to Myrtle Beach, opening a large swath of Southern West Virginia to interstate access. The highway will run 95 miles in all in West Virginia through Mercer, McDowell, Mingo, Wyoming and Wayne counties.
Foster said the $1.5 million for the Coalfields Expressway "will be used on the WV 16 to Mullens section (in Wyoming County), which will serve as the primary route accessing the southern counties as both a freight route and a means of cutting travel time for citizens."
The Coalfields Expressway will run from I-77/I-64 in Beckley across Wyoming and McDowell Counties into Virginia and then on to Rt. 83. Virginia has not yet funded any large segments of its share of the highway.
On the West Virginia side, though, the segment from Beckley to Mullens is either complete or under construction. A five-mile segment from Welch to the Rt. 16 intersection in Wyoming County is also now under construction.
However, a 15-mile section between Mullens and the Rt. 16 intersection with King Coal as well as a 21-mile section between Welch and the Virginia State Line west of Bradshaw have not yet entered the design phase, according to the state Department of Highways.
Funding the highways is costly.
For example, the section of King Coal from Bluefield to Airport Road is only about three miles and just one bridge is being erected since the large four-lane Christine West Bridge at its intersection with Rt. 460 was built more than a dozen years ago.
That relatively short section will cost about $60 million.
The five-mile section of the Coalfields Expressway at Welch was bid out for $167 million and that is with some of the grading already done in years past.
Sen. Chandler Swope in early 2022 questioned Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston when he updated legislators on state roads projects.
According to reports by WVMetroNews, Wriston said the Coalfields Expressway will cost about $2 billion more to finish to the Virginia line and may be completed in "slightly more than a decade."
Wriston said King Coal Highway also has an estimated $2 billion price tag to finish, although more miles are needed to be constructed than the Coalfields Expressway.
The article said Wriston told Swope that more miles of road are needed, "but we're taking a look at some different approaches maybe where we can use Route 52 to a degree and only build two lanes maybe (to run parallel to Rt. 52)."
But he gave no timeline on a possible completion date.