Editorial: FAST Act: Federal Highway Bill Now Law

Legislation that will fast track federal funding for critical highway infrastructure projects in West Virginia and Virginia, including the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway, has been signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act last week by a vote of 350 to 65. The U.S. Senate then voted 83 to 16 to approve the FAST Act. The measure was signed into law by Obama late Friday evening.

The long-awaited federal highway bill will provide more than $2.6 billion in federal transportation dollars to West Virginia over a five-year period. In neighboring Virginia, another $6.2 billion in federal transportation funding will be allocated to the Commonwealth over the next five years.

The measure is the first long-term highway funding bill to be approved by Congress in more than a decade. It is long overdue and desperately needed, and should help in jump-starting both the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway, while also allocating additional dollars to urgently needed road and bridge repairs in both West Virginia and Virginia.

Lawmakers across the region voted in support of the bill, including U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

Jenkins, a member of the House Appropriations Committee who serves on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee, said the new long-term highway bill will allow West Virginia to rebuild roads, complete highway projects, repair bridges, and improve rural transit programs — all without raising the gas tax.

“West Virginia will have the funding, certainty and tools needed to move forward on long-term highway projects like King Coal Highway, Tolsia Highway, Coalfields Expressway and Route 10 just to name a few, Jenkins said. “Instead of making spending decisions in Washington, this bill gives money to the states to decide which projects will be built and prioritized. I know the people of southern West Virginia want to see highway dollars invested in their backyards, and I will be fighting for these projects and for the Third District to receive its fair share.”

“Under the FAST Act, West Virginia will receive over $2.3 billion dollars to maintain existing infrastructure and continue construction on critical high priority corridors such as the King Coal Highway, the Coalfields Expressway, and Corridor H,” Manchin added. “The bill also includes a new national freight program that will bring $70 million to West Virginia over the next five years to support the efficient movement of goods throughout our national highway system.”

Two road projects that are expected to see a resumption of construction as a result of the new federal highway bill are the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway. In Mercer County, the federal highway bill should help to ensure that funding will be in place for the resumption of construction on a long-stalled section of the King Coal Highway near Bluefield, which was recently included in West Virginia’s six-year highway improvement plan by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The future Intestate 73/74 corridor currently comes to an abrupt end at the Christine West Bridge near Stoney Ridge and the Mercer Mall. Current plans call for the creation of a usable segment of the highway that will extend toward Route 123, and the Mercer County Airport. Getting this road moving again is critical to the future of southern West Virginia.

“It’s a great day, and it’s been quite a few years since we’ve had a transportation bill,” King Coal Highway Authority Executive Director Mike Mitchem told the Daily Telegraph last week. “We are hoping it will jump-start the Mercer County section there that is in the six-year plan, the airport, the railcar place the city of Bluefield is working on and will help bring some other economic development to the area.”

In terms of the Coalfields Expressway, officials are hoping the federal funding will allow them to get the four-lane corridor to the Pineville area of Wyoming County. A section of the road is already open to traffic in Raleigh County. Richard Browning, executive director of the Coalfields Expressway Authority, says the authority is continuing to look at contracts in McDowell County, and possible public-private agreements. That’s of critical importance considering that McDowell County still doesn’t have a usable section of four-lane highway.

We welcome and applaud the passage of the FAST Act. With a new long-term federal highway bill in the books, it is now imperative for state officials to get back to work on building the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway, and fixing our dilapidated roads and bridges.

Source: Bluefield Daily Telegraph