Corridor H: Limit It!

LOST: This View of Hanging Rock near Baker, WV, now dwarfed by Corridor H bridge.

Why Oppose Corridor H in 2022?

As Stewards of the Potomac Highlands said 20 years ago in our first newsletter of 2001, a billion-dollar four-lane rural highway from Elkins to I-66 is a waste of money. We’re with folks who say “Fix the Roads we already have.”

US Sen. Joe Manchin, D- WV has forced the issue in 2021 by ramming nearly $200 million into the national infrastructure bill for Appalachian Corridor roadbuilding in West Virginia. Corridor H now costs $24 to $50 million a mile to build.

Currently, 101 miles of Corridor H are built and open to traffic in West Virginia. Virginia has no plans to build its part, as shown by the absence of Corridor H in local and state transportation plans. Corridor H is still a “Road to Nowhere.”

What has been built does serve areas of some traffic, including Elkins in Randolph County and Moorefield in Hardy County. We ask: why not limit the project at this point?

Still slated for building are 31 miles, including the environmentally sensitive section from Parsons to Davis in the Blackwater Canyon area, and in the George Washington National Forest between Wardensville and the Virginia Line. If completed, Corridor H would mainly serve as throughway for goods from DC to I-79 rather than serving people who live in West Virginia and Virginia. That’s the purpose stated by politicians and economic developers pushing the four-lane: https://youtu.be/EFexGOjNfJg

2020 Development Status and WVDOH Enviro Records

Click to see WVDOH Corridor H info , maps and enviro statements going back to 1992: mahttps://transportation.wv.gov/highways/major-projects/Corridor-H/route/Pages/Wardensville-to-Virginia.aspx

An alternative?

Corridor K in North Carolina and Tennessee is being built different than the standard four-lane, to better serve local residents and avoid damage to Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests thanks to an agreement with the highway department negotiated by the Southern Environmental Law Center. Sections of the project include improvements to existing rural roads. So– it can be done.

Tucker County Looks at alternative northern route

Watch new VIDEO explaining how a northern route can avoid splitting the twin towns of Thomas and Davis, and avoid some environmental and historical impacts in the Blackwater Canyon area.

Traffic Doesn’t Justify

Traffic needs do not justify a four-lane road here. Traffic count maps from 2015 https://gis.transportation.wv.gov/aadt/ show much of the traffic on already-built Corridor H sections between Baker (west of Wardensville) and the Virginia line are sparsely traveled–well under 5,000 vehicles per day. In the busier sections around Elkins and Moorefield, WVDOH maps show the main roads with range of 5,000 to 50,000 vehicles per day. This range is too broad to make sense in a decision on whether a four-lane is really needed.

Meanwhile, we still need many other roads and bridges fixed. A 2017 report by the nonprofit transport group TRIP showed nearly 30% of major West Virginia roads in poor condition. https://www.wowktv.com/archives/most-west-virginia-major-roads-in-poor-condition/

Climate Issues from Roadbuilding

A report by US Public Interest Research Group points out that new highways will not help us address climate change—a major threat in hilly West Virginia, as anyone who’s seen one of our floods and severe storms of the past few years can tell you.

For one thing, production of cement — a key material for highway construction — alone contributed 8 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions in 2016. 

Moreover, expanding roads entrenches a transportation system responsible for massive pollution. More roads means more driving, and more driving means more pollution. For instance, RMI’s 2021 analysis of the Colorado transportation spending plan estimates that the increase in driving caused by new road construction would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 8 to 15 million tons of CO2-equivalent cumulatively through 2050. 

Senator Manchin is one of the corporate Democrats now working in Congress to delay policies which would cut back on fossil fuel use. He made his money on coal. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/30/joe-manchin-climate-coal-baron-stocks

A national “fix it first” road policy debated earlier in 2021 for the infrastructure bill seems to have been dropped, thanks to those who would profit by building bigger roads

https://uspirg.org/blogs/blog/usp/america-can%E2%80%99t-handle-more-highways-let%E2%80%99s-fix-what-we-have-instead

“Fix it First” Fact Sheet:

Local Damage to Streams, Habitat, Towns

To avoid the expense and unpopular hassle of taking private property, WVDOH tends to design its destructive projects on National Forest land. In the Wardensville-to state line section in Hardy County, this will result in damage not only to the scenery but trout streams and other natural assets used by wildlife and prized by humans– locals and visitors. Waites’ Run and Trout Run, high quality trout streams around Wardensville, would be crossed and damaged by roadbuilding, and the Tuscarora Trail (an Appalachian Trail spur) would be affected. Effects on groundwater, including the well that supplies the whole town of Wardensville, are even more profound due to the karst terrain, which is rated top level in its sensitivity to ground disturbance. Further, the new road would divert traffic from the town’s thriving Main Street economy based on heritage tourism in the charming historic districts.

In Tucker County, the Blackwater Canyon area between Parsons and Thomas (home to endangered species including the Big Eared Virginia Bat,) are slated for extensive damage from road destruction. Friends of Blackwater Canyon has submitted environmental impact comments. https://saveblackwater.org/corridor-h-comments/ Bypassing the twin towns of Davis and Thomas and Davis will hurt the towns’ tourist and locally-controlled economies which have built up over the last 20 years

Another longtime statewide enviro group, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, continues to monitor the court settlement which has slowed down Corridor H destruction for 20 years. https://wvhighlands.org/highways

Secondary damage would come from the sprawl which follows the completion of four-lanes such as the section of Corridor H around Moorefield, and Corridor G outside Charleston. H. . Corridor H will whisk travelers on by instead of encouraging them to stop in the towns, and will benefit gas stations and convenience stops outside of town. The towns themselves need infrastructure improvements more than they need a new highway.

Status of Corridor H, 2022

PAVING CONTRACT, Elkins to Parsons:

https://www.wdtv.com/2021/02/25/paving-work-to-begin-on-section-of-corridor-h/ From Kerens, east of Elkins in Randolph County, to east of Parsons, Tucker County where the corridor connects with Route 219, a contract for 7.5 miles of asphalt paving has been awarded to West Virginia Paving Inc., with a low bid of $29,970,497.14. The winning bid for the project was more than $6.5 million under the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) Engineer’s Estimate of $36,516,269.10. https://governor.wv.gov/News/press-releases/2021/Pages/Gov.-Justice-announces-award-of-Corridor-H-paving-project-from-Kerens-to-Parsons-a-Roads-To-Prosperity-project.aspx

Corridor H backers in West Virginia, such as Corridor H Authority https://corridorh.com/ , are drooling over Manchin’s prospective infusion of dollars.

But environmental groups may well sue to block construction if WVDOH sticks to its “preferred alternative” for the Parsons to Davis section–an alignment which would damage the towns of Thomas and Davis and the Blackwater Canyon area. https://wvhighlands.org/article/corridor-h-whose-highway/

WHAT ABOUT VIRGINIA?

West Virginia highway officials have long announced they intend to more-or-less force Virginia to build its section of Corridor h by bringing increased east-west traffic to the state line. https://www.wvpress.org/breaking-news/corridor-h-finishing-still-west-virginia-priority/

FLAWED ECONOMIC PURPOSE

The Appalachian Corridor highway building program is based on a 1960s economic concept that building roads would create jobs. When such corridors connect two rural highways rather than large cities, experience has shown they don’t help towns, but create sprawl development. This destroys historic assets and more forest and farmland, and encourages more automobile driving.

Corridor H Authority claims Corridor H will create 574 West Virginia jobs annually They cite Inland Port in Front Royal, VA and the experimental Hyperloop facility near Elkins as industrial areas served. Ironically, they also claim benefits for small town tourism. Corridor H would chiefly harm the towns by causing traffic to bypass them.

Stewards continue to advocate that highway infrastructure budgets go toward safety improvements to the network of existing Potomac Highlands roads.

We are sharing with the public what we know about this wasteful and destructive project.

Cor. H. 2020 status map closeup (click to zoom)

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