ELKINS - The completion of Corridor H will be a boon in Eastern West Virginia where residents and businessmen eagerly await its completion.
"Basically, if Corridor H was finished all the way through to I-81 like it's planned, we would save thousands of dollars a year in diesel," said Jim Strader, who owns Buccaneer Enterprises, a trucking company on Old Route 33 in Buckhannon.
Completion of the multi-million-road from Elkins connecting West Virginia and Virginia would reduce travel time to Washington, D.C., he said. The company makes about 80 such trips per week, Strader said.
By the end of the year 75 percent of Corridor H will be completed. Seen above is a section of the road that travels through Buckhannon. Construction on the Appalachian Corridor is ongoing and, according to the Corridor H Authority, 87 percent will be under construction by 2018. The authority believes the road could be completed by 2020.
"If Corridor H was complete, it would cut at least an hour off the trip to (Washington) D.C., and that's just one way," Strader said.
First proposed in 1964 by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the 143-mile long highway is the only incomplete leg of the federal Appalachian Corridor System through 13 states covered by the commission. U.S. 50 through Parkersburg, Corridor D, was a corridor project.
Corridor H begins at the intersection of Interstate 79 and U.S. 33 near Weston and will end at the junction of Interstates 81 and 66 in Front Royal, Va. When finished, 130 miles of the road will wind through West Virginia and the final 13 will cover ground in Virginia. If current funding levels remain the same, Corridor H will be done by 2034, but the Corridor H Authority believes it can - and must - be completed by 2020.
Construction has been underway for more than 10 years on Corridor H.
Eighty-seven percent of the road will be under construction by 2018, the Corridor H Authority notes on its website, www.corridorh2020.com.
Most people don't realize the road will be 75 percent complete in West Virginia by the end of the year, said Robbie Morris, executive director of the Randolph County Development Authority.
"Unless you make regular trips to the Eastern Panhandle or to the D.C. and Baltimore area, you don't really see it," Morris said. "People view the progress on the Corridor from where it stands at Kerens, and nothing's being done from Kerens to Parsons... but that doesn't mean nothing is being done."
Most of the construction is concentrated near Mount Storm where heavy equipment dots the landscape. Several areas of forest along West Virginia 93 have been cleared for the highway.
Buttresses for bridges are beginning to come together and the decks have been installed on several bridges nearing completion.
The major economic advantage is it will link exporters in West Virginia to the Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal, Va. From there, double-stack rail service is capable of carrying large freight containers to the Norfolk International Terminals, the deepest port on the eastern coast of the United States.
"Anybody that has any product that is being exported would be able to benefit from Corridor H being complete," said Steve Foster, chairman of the Corridor H Authority and executive director of the Upshur County Development Authority. "Any distributer that needs access to the northeast is also going to benefit."
Morris said the wood products industry is the number one Elkins-area industry that would be bolstered by a finished Corridor H.
"The price of our product is extremely good, if not better, than in other areas of the country, but where the problem comes in is with transportation costs," Morris said. "It takes so much more money to get over the mountains now, and that's where we lose our competitive advantage. The corridor is going to save major dollars in diesel fuel and truck maintenance, and that will allow us to be more competitive in a global market."
Foster and Morris also count tourism and higher education among the industries that will profit.
"This is going to open up our state and allow people to see the beauty that they might not otherwise see," Morris remarked. "This road literally goes through the most beautiful part of the state...you have Potomac Highlands, the Allegheny Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. (Corridor H) is going to put you on top so you can see the majesty of what we have."
So, what will it actually take to put down the pavement?
State Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, says dollars are key.
"Now, what it's going to take to complete the project is federal funding," Barnes said recently. "That is the most critical area. We as a state and we as a state government have been willing and able to provide a state match to any federal funds that come in."
Barnes said the speed at which Corridor H is constructed depends on federal legislators' ability to pass special appropriations bills.
"Certainly, the completion (of Corridor H) is vital for the economy of this area," Barnes said. "I believe the vast majority of people are very supportive of having it completed, and those folks need to certainly keep it before their elected officials, from the county level, right up to the national level."
Strader believes doing so will have a big payback.
"When this road is finished, it's going to help all businesses along the corridor, even motels and gas stations," he said. "The whole southern part of the state is going to be driving up (Interstate) 79 and then going east on the corridor instead of continuing north up to (Interstate) 68."