Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner David Ekern announced Jan. 17 that VDOT, along with its private-sector partners Pioneer Group Inc. and Alpha Natural Resources LLC, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resource Inc., have agreed to perform a limited feasibility study for the Coalfields Expressway project.
Both companies, which are southwest Virginia natural resource companies, will evaluate possible highway alignments that consider areas of marketable coal reserves controlled by the companies. The techniques used to recover this coal could significantly lower the cost of building the Coalfields Expressway, reducing the amount of public funds needed to develop the project.
“By working with the partners, we are able to take one step closer to a win-win situation where the cost of this important expressway project is reduced while the valuable natural resources can be recovered,” Ekern said.
The limited feasibility study will provide VDOT with the information necessary to determine the viability of a “coal-synergy” solution for the Coalfields Expressway. Also, the study results will support efforts to seek Federal Highway Administration approval for the use of federal funds on the project. It is anticipated that the completed study will be submitted to VDOT in mid-summer 2007.
“We’re pleased that VDOT is moving forward with a limited feasibility study for the Coalfields Expressway, which is so important to the future economic progress of Southwestern Virginia,” said Michael J. Quillen, Alpha’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Removing coal during construction can help reduce the cost of building the expressway, which in turn reduces the burden on taxpayers.”
The Coalfields Expressway — U.S. Route 121 — is a proposed four-lane highway stretching 51 mi. (82 km) from Pound in Wise County through Dickenson and Buchanan counties to the West Virginia line. It will provide a modern, safe and efficient highway through the coalfields region of southwestern Virginia. It is expected that the entire multi-state Appalachian region should see a boost in commerce and tourism as a result of the Coalfields Expressway.
“As the coal industry winds down in the mountains, it will be so important to bring in other industries and people to the area,” said Clyde Stacy, president of Pioneer. “We look forward to working with Alpha and VDOT in moving this project forward.”
Designated as part of the national highway system, the new road will link Interstates 64 and 77 in West Virginia with Route 23 in Virginia, which links to interstates in Kentucky and Tennessee.
The limited feasibility study is being funded in part with a $2 million grant from the Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund.