“I feel pretty good all things considered,” David “Bugs” Stover said after completing his walk from Welch to Charleston in just over a week. “I actually feel better than I did when I finished my first walk to Charleston 13 years ago.”
Stover used his 134-mile walk to bring attention to the need to complete the Coalfields Expressway to the Virginia border.
He met with Gov. Jim Justice Monday evening in the Governor's Mansion, along with Byrd White, West Virginia Department of Highways commissioner; Jimmy Wriston, deputy commissioner, and Bray Cary, the governor's senior advisor.
“The meeting lasted a little over an hour,” Stover said. “I left encouraged over the answers to questions I, and others, have been asking.
“He told me, 'If I died tomorrow, all the connections are made to bring the road to Pineville.'
“He also gave me his personal guarantee that, if he is elected to a second term, the road will be finished to the Virginia border,” Stover said of Gov. Justice.
“Bugs Stover is an incredible man!” the governor tweeted Monday after the meeting. “He WALKED from Wyoming Co. to Charleston to meet with me at the Mansion. I assured him that without a doubt I would proudly finish the Coalfields Expressway to the VA border!”
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The current Coalfields Expressway construction project includes paving 8.9 miles from Slab Fork to Mullens, then a one-mile section of two-lane road from the exit to the town of Mullens. Original grading of the new section began 10 to 12 years ago, according to officials.
It should be completed next month, finally completing nearly 18 miles of useable four-lane from Beckley to Mullens.
It will be Wyoming County's first four-lane.
That first 6.9-mile completed stretch of Coalfields Expressway will also be resurfaced to the VA hospital.
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Stover learned during the meeting Monday that the environmental impact study for the link from Mullens to Pineville has not been started, but acquiring some right-of-way will begin next month.
“I think the big difference now is that we know what is actually going on with this highway,” Stover said of the meeting.
“Before (the meeting), we were being told that the state had all the money necessary to build the road to the Virginia border. Of course, that's not the case.
“I asked them if they had a billion dollars in a box somewhere for this road,” Stover joked.
“(The governor) just put it on the line to me. He told me the Coalfields Expressway is a priority. He gave me his personal guarantee that the road would be finished to Pineville and, if he's re-elected, all the way to Virginia in the next five years,” Stover said.
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In 2001, a 1.5 mile section of unpaved four-lane was constructed near the federal prison in McDowell County, but is still currently unusable. That section was graded but never paved, and never connected to another road.
During the meeting Monday, officials told Stover that section, constructed nearly two decades ago, will also be completed and construction will begin to extend the highway toward Pineville.
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Stover has served as Wyoming County's circuit clerk for nearly 15 years. Prior to that, he taught school for 27 years.
He has undertaken numerous widely-publicized protest walks for a variety of causes through the years – from supporting coal miners to protesting the unfairness of the 2011 state redistricting plan.
In 2006, Stover made his first walk in support of the Coalfields Expressway and met with then-Gov. Joe Manchin.
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“The walk was probably good for me. I think the difference is, I walked the entire route this time. Before, if I got behind, I would run to make up the lost time. I didn't do that this time.
“Nothing negative happened this time. I've had negative things happen during every walk; of course, everything worked out. But, this time, nothing majorly negative happened.
“I am extremely weary, and this is my last walk.
“But I do feel good about this,” Stover said of his walk and his meeting with the governor and other officials.
“I have no doubt that within the next two years, the road will be in Pineville,” Stover said.
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The road, also known as U.S. Rt. 121, began 30 years ago when the West Virginia Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 28, calling for the construction of a new highway that would link Interstates 64/77 to U.S. 460 in Virginia.
The 62-mile four-lane will traverse McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh counties in West Virginia, with another 51 miles in Virginia, from Pound, in Wise County, through Dickenson and Buchanan counties.