The Coalfields Pork-Barrel Expressway

"There's this powerful belief that somehow if you build a modern full-service highway in an economically depressed area that it will bring economic growth and jobs to a region. There's no evidence anywhere that it works."

-- Delegate John A. Rollison III
R-Prince William County
House Transportation Committee chairman

Update 2014: funding has been restored.

Local politicians were shocked when the federal highway department pulled funding for the over-priced and questionable Coalfields Expressway. This 51 mile long pork-barrel road is touted as the future for the depressed coal counties of Southwest Virginia. Similar claims were made for US 23 through Wise, Russell, and Scott Counties, but has failed to create real private sector jobs in the region. There is no reason to believe this one will either, and the road construction itself and the billions in federal dollars is the real goal.

Also controversial is the "no-bid" sweetheart deal for Halliburton. (Yes, that Halliburton) Under some nonsense called "public-private partnership" (PPP) a firm can lobby Virginia politicians to build projects even if the projects are not needed.

Congressman Rick Boucher was defeated in 2010.

What's Being Done:

Currently, contract negotiations are underway between VDOT and the coal companies. Project timeline:

January 2006: Acting Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Greg Whirley announces that VDOT, along with its private sector partner Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), moved to advance the Coalfields Expressway project with Pioneer Group Inc., and Alpha Natural Resources LLC, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources Inc.

Both companies, which are southwestern Virginia natural resource companies, agreed to step forward to advance the project under the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA).

January 2007: VDOT Commissioner David Ekern announceds that VDOT, along with Pioneer and Alpha, have agreed to perform a limited feasibility study for the Coalfields Expressway project.

September 2007: Alpha and Pioneer submit their limited feasibility study. The study evaluates 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.

The limited feasibility study provides VDOT with the information necessary to determine the viability of a "coal-synergy" solution for the Coalfields Expressway.

April 2008: Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announces two $5 million Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund grants for VDOT to advance construction of the Hawk's Nest and Rockhouse sections of the Coalfields Expressway.

The first $5 million grant will go toward establishing a rough grade roadbed for the Hawk's Nest portion of the expressway, which is located adjacent to the proposed Route 460 Connector interchange and Route 614 in Buchanan County.

The second $5 million grant will go toward establishing a rough grade roadbed for a portion of the Rockhouse section of the expressway, which is located between the West Virginia/Virginia line and Route 643 in Buchanan County.

April 2008: U. S. Rep. Rick Boucher announces the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) re-instated VDOT's ability to request federal funds for the Coalfields Expressway. May 13, 2008: VDOT holds a location and design public hearing for the Hawk's Nest section of the Coalfields Expressway from 4-7 p.m. at Russell Prater Elementary in Vansant.

More than 100 citizens represent to review and discuss with VDOT preliminary plans for the proposed Hawk's Nest section of Route 121.

Sept. 10, 2008: VDOT, Pioneer Group and Alpha Natural Resources sign an agreement allowing the final design and construction of the Hawk's Nest portion of the Coalfields Expressway to begin.

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