By Jessica Farrish
U.S. Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., was in Summers County Monday morning to celebrate the ribbon-cutting of the New River Parkway.
The festivities marked the completion of the first 1.36 miles of the parkway, which begins along New River Road and Madams Creek near Hinton.
Groundbreaking on the project started in August 2011.
“There is only one thing better than breaking ground on a road project, and this is it,” said Rahall.
To date, Rahall has secured $22 million in federal funding for the project, a sum he called “a good down payment.”
He said a parkway in “your backyard” will attract attention on Google, MapQuest and AAA, pulling tourists into the state.
“This gateway to the Gorge, to the largest protected system of rivers east of the Mississippi, will prove to be an important component of the overall attraction of our region to tourists and should play a considerable role in future marketing strategies,” said Rahall. “This parkway has long been part of a broad plan for economic development, the fruits of which we can see all around this area.
“Hinton, itself, has seen growth through a bustling, almost year-round tourism industry.”
Rahall said the ideals of “build it and they will come” and “protect it and they will come” are evident in Hinton’s tourism trade and the Boy Scouts of America’s Summit Bechtel Family Reserve, built next to a federal park in nearby Fayette County.
Rahall said West Virginia is an example to the nation of long-range planning.
“With a major victory like the Boy Scouts,” said Rahall, “it is a game-changer for the entire state. And that effort takes a lot of partnering on all levels of government.”
Rahall criticized the current federal budgetary sequester as making broad cuts to some positive “discretionary” programs.
“Our message to those in the nation’s capitol is one that should be music to their ears,” he said. “The team is in place, plans are laid, all our ducks are in a row, we can use one of those old-fashioned earmarks, or whatever you want to call them,” he said. “My point is we can put federal funding to work.”
Rahall said other countries are watching, and West Virginia investments are “proof” that the “return on federal dollars can be beneficial to the nation.”
“There is a good reason why the AFL-CIO, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are all on the same side — our side — when it comes to increasing federal investments in initiatives like highways,” he said. “They understand the value of putting money into rebuilding America.”
The goal of the roadway is to “provide better access to the area’s resources and protect the area while accommodating visitors to stimulate appropriate economic development activity in the area,” according to Doug Tolbert, executive director of the parkway authority.