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King Coal Highway Authority Wants $248M From Feds for Southern W.Va. Job

Congress is asked to put its money where its mouth is over a Highway project that prioritized in 1995.

Tue May 07, 2013 - National Edition
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BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (AP) Members of the King Coal Highway Authority are banking on West Virginia’s congressional delegation to help them land $248 million in federal funds for the southern West Virginia project.

During a visit to Washington, D.C., on April 18, they also asked the delegation to help secure $76 million for the Tolsia Highway.

The 95-mi. (153 km) King Coal Highway will run from Bluefield to Williamson, where it will join the Tolsia Highway. The two highways will be part of the Interstate 73/74 corridor, which Congress declared a priority in 1995.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph said the authority also is asking the state to make the projects a high funding priority. Among the work the authority wants to fund are a $70 million, 2.4-mi. (3.8 km) segment of the highway near the Mercer County Airport and a $20 million interchange of the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway in Welch.

Project backers also want $158 million for two other stretches of highway and $18 million for a connector near Gilbert.

A 12-mi. (19 km) section of the King Coal Highway opened in 2011, but the project has been controversial for more than a decade.

West Virginia has enlisted coal companies to help build the road — a move that has angered environmental groups that claim the partnership effectively subsidizes mountaintop removal mining.

Through the public-private partnerships, the companies keep the coal they mine while grading the land for road-building in the process.

In March, a circuit judge ruled that the state Department of Transportation wrongly awarded a construction contract to a coal company without competitive bidding. That ruling stemmed from a 2004 lawsuit filed against the Department of Transportation and the Division of Highways by the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation.

ACT had argued that the state awarded an illegal, no-bid contract awarded to Nicewonder, a subsidiary of Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, for a 14-mi. (22.5 km) section of the highway. It contended that let Alpha pay workers less than federal law requires.

In 2009, 20 families along Mingo County’s Pigeon Creek sued Alpha, Nicewonder and two other Alpha subsidiaries, Flame Energy and Cobra Natural Resources, over construction of the highway.

They argued the strip mining that helped create material for the project contributed to devastating spring floods.

In that case, Alpha denied any wrongdoing and called it "a natural disaster caused by exceedingly high rainfalls and ground saturation."

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