Expressway Project Back on Track With $2 Million State Grant

Wed August 02, 2006 - National Edition
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RICHMOND, VA (AP) The $2.3-billion Coalfields Expressway, a proposed 51-mi. (82 km), four-lane highway through southwest Virginia, is back on track with a $2 million state grant.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and its two private partners will use the money to look at alternative alignments for the expressway and related U.S. 460 Connector, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s office announced.

The expressway is planned from Pound in Wise County through Dickenson and Buchanan counties. The road would join the West Virginia Coalfields Expressway near Paynesville, WV. The U.S. 460 Connector would link the Coalfields Expressway to Kentucky.

This year, VDOT handed over the stalled project to Pioneer Group Inc. of Bristol and Alpha Natural Resources Inc. of Abingdon. The companies intend to build sections of the highway on land they strip-mine for coal, potentially saving the state a third of the road’s cost.

“This grant supports our continued use of design-build contracting techniques and other innovative tools to deliver critical transportation projects,” Kaine said.

Virginia Transportation Commissioner Gregory A. Whirley Sr. said that while the state does not have money for the project yet, “the $2 million sends a signal that we’re serious about it.”

The federal government pulled its funds from the Coalfields Expressway in June 2005, citing a lack of progress and a doubling of estimated costs.

The state’s initial plans, developed as part of a public-private partnership under Gov. Jim Gilmore, called for the expressway to be finished by 2012. No date has been set to begin construction.

The state hopes the road would be an economic godsend for a region with high unemployment and a shrinking population.

“Leveraging the coal resources of this region is the only viable financing strategy for the Coalfields Expressway and Connector,” state Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer said.

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