W.Va. renews Corridor H efforts in Va.

Posted: October 22, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — A large highway construction project — with origins and most of the route in West Virginia — could bring economic benefits to this area, and the group overseeing the project wants the road work finished by 2020.

Corridor H — a planned 143-mile, four-lane highway that calls for 13 miles in Virginia once completed — would connect Interstate 79 near Weston, W.Va., to the Virginia Inland Port near Front Royal, if Virginia agrees to build its section of the road.

The highway would make exporting goods easier for West Virginia companies, since double-stacked rail containers could be loaded and shipped from the Inland Port to the deep-water port in Norfolk, according to Stephen E. Foster, chairman of the Robert C. Byrd Corridor H Authority.

An economic impact report on Corridor H released by international firm RQA Group found that completing the highway by 2020 — as opposed to the projected 2036 completion date — could bring West Virginia more than $1.2 billion in revenue, Foster said in a press conference Monday afternoon at the Winchester Regional Airport.

Benefits for this area would primarily come from an increase in jobs — including manufacturing, shipping, distribution centers and other companies that would support the highway and Inland Port — and an increased tax base as new workers move into the area, Foster said.

The RQA report states that Corridor H could lead to 534 jobs new annually along its length while construction is ongoing and 570 new jobs annually after construction finishes.

“It will help, I think, the per capita income a little bit in some of those areas,” Foster said.

The highway could also take some traffic off Interstate 81, he added.

Curtis Wilkerson, a spokesman for Charleston, W.Va.-based public relations firm Orion Strategies, said during the press conference that Corridor H will bring “enormous growth” to the areas around the highway.

“It’s an amazing thing,” he said. “Any place that you see four-lane highways built up there’s all this development that goes with it.”

Patrick Barker, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission, said Monday afternoon that it’s hard to gauge how Corridor H would impact this area right now.

“It’s something we would watch and monitor and try to explore the advantages and disadvantages as it relates to Winchester and Frederick County,” he said.

In 1995, Virginia transportation officials decided against moving forward with the state’s section of Corridor H.

But Foster said the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) likely will release a report later this month detailing its proposed route to take Corridor H from the state line to the Inland Port. Once the report is released, the authority will have an idea of how much the Virginia section will cost, he said.

It’s expected that Corridor H would parallel U.S. 55 from Wardensville, W.Va., to Front Royal, he added.

“Many of us have said all along that Corridor H is critical to the economic future of North-Central West Virginia and the Potomac Highlands,” Foster said. “By extension, the highway is important to the entire state. Extending that, it is also important to Virginia.”

While the federal government will fund 100 percent of construction of Corridor H through 2021 — it had previously funded 80 percent with West Virginia funding 20 percent — VDOT would assume maintenance responsibilities after construction finishes.

The federal government would provide some financial assistance for maintenance, according to Foster.

About 75 percent of the highway is either under construction or open in West Virginia.

“The end is in sight,” Foster said. “We just have to push this through the finish line. The study gives us numbers to present to federal and state legislators and transportation officials.”

West Virginia would generate $1.25 billion in new revenue if Corridor H is completed by 2020, the study indicates.

Additional information on Corridor H is available online at corridorh2020.com.

The Associated Press contributed information to this article.

— Contact Matt Armstrong at marmstrong@winchesterstar.com