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Support coming for road and bridge upgrades

West Virginia Transportation department Secretary Jimmy Wriston speaks before the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Department of Transportation Accountability at its meeting at the Capitol in Charleston on Nov. 14.

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s transportation secretary is confident that long-awaited completion of major highways projects will finally happen with an influx of federal funding from the infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law Nov. 15.

Department of Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston told a panel of state lawmakers overseeing department accountability Nov. 14 that the federal infrastructure bill could provide sorely needed upgrades for West Virginia’s roads and bridges, citing “underinvestment that you’ve seen in infrastructure across the country for decades.”

“I hope that we can take our three biggest priorities — Corridor H, Coalfield highways and King Coal highways — and move that ball to unbelievable limits,” Wriston said. “I believe that we can deliver those projects in a time frame that would be unprecedented.”

Corridor H is an incomplete highway designed to run from east-central West Virginia to Virginia as part of the Appalachian Development Highway System, a 3,090-mile network of highways linking the region to national interstates.

The Coalfields Expressway is planned to be a multi-lane expressway connecting the Turnpike at Beckley and Route 23 in Slate, Virginia, spanning 65 miles in West Virginia.

The King Coal Highway is a planned four-lane highway to span 95 miles through McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Wyoming and Wayne counties, from U.S. 119 near Williamson to Interstate 77 in Bluefield.

West Virginia is slated to receive $3 billion for road and bridge upgrades, based on federal estimates, with more than $500 million set aside for bridge replacement and repairs.

Wriston said the infrastructure dollar amounts allotted for West Virginia are close to what he and former Transportation secretary Byrd White estimated they would be three years ago.

“It’s almost exactly what we thought it would be,” Wriston said. “The dollar figure itself is a little bit bigger.”

Wriston was addressing the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Department of Transportation Accountability during its interim legislative session meeting Nov. 14.

The infrastructure bill authorizes $550 billion in new spending over five years on roads and bridges, water systems, broadband, the electric grid, rail, ports, airports and public transit.

Over five years, West Virginia should expect to receive $3 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs; $506 million for bridge replacement and repair; $487 million to improve water infrastructure; $190 million to improve public transportation options; $100 million to help provide broadband coverage throughout the state; $46 million to expand an electric-vehicle charging network; and $44 million for airport infrastructure development, the White House said in August.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.,and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., voted for the bill in August when the Senate advanced it to the House of Representatives in a 69-30 tally.

The Democrat-controlled House approved it earlier this month, mostly along party lines, but 13 Republicans voted for the bill, including Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.

McKinley has defended the bill as an opportunity to fund pivotal upgrades to infrastructure in West Virginia, which got a “D” on its 2020 Infrastructure Report Card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Reps. Carol Miller and Alex Mooney, both R-W.Va., voted against the bill, objecting to its projected addition to the national debt.

The bill would add $256 billion to the federal deficit, according to a finding from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a federal agency that provides independent analyses of budgetary issues.

But the White House has argued that the legislation will help reduce inflation and strengthen supply chains by providing overdue reinforcement for the country’s ports, airports, rails and roads, creating union jobs and growing the economy.

The bill also authorizes $65 billion for broadband, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $11.3 billion to reclaim abandoned mine lands and $4.7 billion to cap and reclaim abandoned oil and gas wells nationwide.

Mike Tony covers energy and the environment for HD Media. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hdmediallc.com. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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