The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 15, 2013

Rahall warns cuts will slow Coalfields, King Coal projects

Future funds for Z-Way also at stake

By Charles Owens
For The Register-Herald

— A West Virginia lawmaker is warning that the looming sequestration cuts in Washington would create a “self-inflicted wound” on regional infrastructure projects such as the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, urged his fellow committee members Wednesday to fight for the resources needed to increase infrastructure investment.

“For generations, investments in infrastructure have paved the way for increased economic opportunity, the creation of good paying jobs in our communities, and a more prosperous nation,” Rahall said. “But in recent years when jobs are needed more than ever, that time-tested prescription for their creation has largely been ignored by Congress.

“Critical projects like Routes 2, 10, and 35, the Interstate 73 /74/Tolsia/King Coal Highway, the Coalfields Expressway, and the Beckley Z-Way and Intermodal Gateway are the types of investments that can lead us out of our economic doldrums, but we need the political will in Washington to help see them across the finish line.”

The across-the-board, indiscriminate sequestration cuts are set to take effect March 1 if Congress doesn’t act, Rahall said. The sequester will cut about $1 billion from the U.S. Department of Transportation, $600 million from the Army Corps of Engineers and $4 billion total from transportation and infrastructure programs alone, according to Rahall.

The King Coal Highway is proposed to run 90 miles from Williamson to Bluefield. It is part of the future I-73/74/75 corridor. The Coalfields Expressway is proposed to extend 65 miles through McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh counties, and another 51 miles in Buchanan, Wise and Dickenson counties in neighboring southwest Virginia.

Rahall said the federal government has a direct role in developing infrastructure.

“Despite the critical role that the federal government has played in the development of infrastructure for generations, it now faces an uncertain future,” Rahall said. “The hard choices of the past have given way to a political will that never sees beyond the next election.

“It is time to recognize that Congress must again make hard choices. We must move beyond rhetoric in support of infrastructure and recognize that it is about the money. Will we find the necessary resources to increase investment in infrastructure and ensure that we leave our nation better off for the next generation?”

— Charles Owens is a reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph