The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 1, 2013

Long & winding road

The Register-Herald

— The road has been long and winding, but when the end is finally reached, the journey will have been worth it.

Let’s just hope we reach that end in our lifetimes.

It is the Coalfields Expressway of which we speak, a holy grail perhaps to many who live in Wyoming and McDowell counties. A long road, yes, but one that when complete, will be straight and have four lanes to allow for a shorter journey from the hollows and mountainsides of those two rugged counties.

While the Coalfields project itself is about 25 years old, construction began in 2000 and has continued in fits and starts since then. Optimism was high when it began that the highway could be finished in just a few years. But the money for road-building began to dry up.

To be sure, West Virginia’s congressional delegation, Rep. Nick Rahall, Sen. Jay Rockefeller and, most especially, the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, did their utmost to keep the federal dollars coming.

Coalfields Expressway Authority Executive Director Richard Browning says it seems the people, the state and the feds agree this road should be built. The issue is that the limited federal money available these days doesn’t go very far.

Road-building in West Virginia is an expensive undertaking, much more so than in a state with flat terrain — $20 million per mile here compared to $4 million for flatlanders in Kansas and the like.

Browning says he spends every day working on how to come up with more money.

It’s quite the dilemma.

Long and winding roads used to be the norm in West Virginia. There are still plenty to be found if that’s the sort of travel you like. But for the most part, there is a major four-lane highway in many areas of the state. Except for Wyoming and McDowell.

Shortening the drive time from Beckley, the hub of medical and economic services in southern West Virginia, to those two counties could open so many opportunities for them. Finishing the four-lane highway would open them to economic development and make life better in many other ways.

Lives could be saved by shorter drive times for emergency personnel. The possibilities are only limited by the long and winding road that is now the only way in and out of those counties.

As important as this highway is, it must be ensured that all IS being done that can be done to obtain the funds needed to finish it.

Congress needs to come to its senses, figure out a way to solve their — and this nation’s — issues and get back to the business of listening to wants and needs of the voters who put them in office.

To many across our country, this may sound like small potatoes. But to the people of southern West Virginia it is a BIG deal.

Keep working hard, Mr. Browning. Maybe those in Washington who can help will wake up sooner rather than later and give you a hand.