By Joe Beck
WINCHESTER -- Representatives of a highway project that would connect West Virginia businesses to Front Royal's Inland Port touted a study Tuesday that projected 570 new jobs annually in the two states upon completion of the road.
The study, commissioned by the Robert C. Byrd Corridor H Authority, also projected $1.25 billion added to the West Virginia economy if the road follows an accelerated construction schedule that would allow for completion in 2020 instead of the proposed target date of 2036.
Most of the road -- 75 percent -- has already been completed or is under construction in West Virginia, but the project remains dormant in Virginia.
Steven Foster, chairman of the Corridor H Authority, said at a news conference at Winchester airport that he was confident the study's findings about the project's economic benefits can be extended to Virginia, especially along a possible route from the West Virginia border near Wardensville, W.Va., to the Interstate 66 and Interstate 81 interchange at Strasburg.
Foster and Curtis Wilkerson, a spokesman for the Corridor H project, said they expect the Virginia Department of Transportation will soon release a proposed route for the highway in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
But Kenneth Slack, a VDOT spokesman, said the agency's Commonwealth Transportation Board voted 18 years ago to scrap a proposed Corridor H route from U.S. 55 from the West Virginia border to I-81.
"I can't speak to the future," Slack said. "I can just speak to what's been done up to this point. As of today, according to information I've been given and talking to engineers, there's been no movement toward it in recent years."
Told of Slack's comments, Foster said he stood by his earlier statement about VDOT.
Foster said the Appalachian Regional Commission has sent word to Virginia and other states to have plans in place by October for completion of federally supported highway projects in the Appalachian region, including Corridor H, or face a loss of federal funding.
"I'm sure there are people in Richmond aware of Corridor H," Foster said.
Foster and Wilkerson cited uninterrupted access from West Virginia to the Inland Port in Front Royal to the international deep-water port in Norfolk as a major economic boost to the region.
"It's all about jobs," Foster said.
Foster and Wilkerson also said a new highway would relieve traffic congestion on I-81 and make it safer for motorists.
But Slack said Corridor H in Shenandoah County met a hostile reception when VDOT conducted public hearings on the project in 1995.
In an email message, Slack described "strong local opposition" at hearings. The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted unanimously the next month to reject the project, Slack said.
While Virginia has no control over road projects in other states, "all future development of Corridor H plans will be done only in West Virginia," Slack said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org