As beautiful as she may be, West Virginia is a state infamous for being difficult to travel.
It's not that we don't have the men and women to build the roads — it's the terrain that is there to stand up and challenge them. The difficulty of building roads over, around and through mountains mean some places are somewhat locked away from the rest of the state — even those that might only be a few miles away.
The King Coal Highway project is designed to unlock not only a travel way from Williamson to Bluefield and points between but also to unlock a valuable resource underneath. The coal underneath the roadway is being mined by companies engaged in public/private partnership that reduces construction costs.
"I think this highway is vital to the families and economic well being of southern West Virginia," said Michael Mitchem when he was elected to serve as executive director of the King Coal Highway Authority. "The people in this region are job marketable, job ready and willing to work hard when given the chance. This highway will open the doors of opportunity for those living in the southern counties."
The road itself is a four-lane highway designated "high priority" within the National Highway System, stretching across 90 miles of southern West Virginia mountains. The project is expected to cut travel time in half by the year 2020.
"The King Coal project has real potential for opening up unused land for future development," the West Virginia Department of Transportation said. "Improved access may stimulate and accelerate development opportunities in areas that were once considered too remote for industrial, commercial or residential development."
One proposed route, the "preferred alternative," would go by the McDowell County Industrial Park.
"This major industrial park is advancing rapidly, and the accessibility of a four-lane highway is seen as a significant benefit in future development."
The King Coal Highway Authority says a few other industrial parks might benefit from the development, though rugged terrain could limit some development.
"Topography is a major constraint and likely would limit any new large-scale commercial development (such as a shopping mall) to Mercer County," the King Coal Highway Authority states. "The topography constraint thus would work in favor of the existing downtown areas in the study corridor, whose long-term sustainability would be enhanced by commercial growth in their locales."
In addition to bringing jobs and commercial development, the project is expected to boost residential development in southern West Virginia.
"There are numerous abandoned home sites in the corridor that would be suitable for new construction, and the development of completely new subdivisions is also likely," the Authority states. "The improved accessibility from McDowell County to the Bluefield area and to industrial employment in nearby parts of Virginia is likely to stimulate residential development, particularly in western Mercer County."
The current route was designed to bring development with minimal impacts.
"The Preferred Alternative was chosen on the basis of its ability to meet the needs of the project while minimizing impact on the natural, physical and social environments. This selected route avoids the greatest number of archaeological resources and has the least impact on businesses and residences. This Preferred Alternative, however, remains ‘preliminary' until the completion of the entire public involvement process."