Saturday, June 25, 2005

Coalfields Highway Dealt Heavy Blow

The Federal Highway Administation is pulling the plug on the $3.8 billion Coalfields Expressway, a proposed four-lane highway that would run through Virginia's rugged and isolated coal-producing counties. The feds cited delays and escalating costs for the 51-mile project, which was estimated to cost $1.6 billion as recently as 2001. Backers of the project had looked to it as an economic lifeline for a region plagued by a shrinking population and the state's highest unemployment rates.

"I don't think it's dead," state Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "But it's going to require a lot more private-sector ingenuity and creativity, and some kind of dedicated state or federal funding source to make it happen.... with a heavy emphasis on 'private sector.'"

With the price tag so high, it's time for coalfield leaders to let go. One way or another, local residents would end up paying for the lion's share of the cost of building the Expressway, which makes sense mainly as a tool to induce manufacturing operations to locate in the region. But such a hope looks less and less realistic as the U.S. manufacturing base continues to migrate offshore. Perhaps the region would be better considered to leap past the manufacturing stage of development all the way to the Knowledge Economy, connecting to the world with high-speed Internet access for a fraction of the cost.

Ireland didn't transform itself into one of the most prosperous, fastest-growing economies in Europe by investing in roads. Bangalore didn't make itself the high-tech capital of India by investing in roads. Perhaps SW Virginia would be better off investing in its telecommunications infrastructure and institutions of knowledge creation.


At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Jerry Gray said...

We don't need the Coalfields Expressway.

The underlying flawed premise of CFX is that it is only our lack of 4-lane highways in this region (specifically, my county, Dickenson. Wise and Buchanan Counties already have 4-lanes)that prevents us from attracting industries which rely on 4-lane highways.

Even with the CFX we will be just as far from an interstate as we are now.

If a 4-lane highway is all it takes to attract industry, there would be factories everywhere in this country. Instead, for many reasons, the new factory jobs are in China and other foreign locations.

As currently planned, the CFX would be built by coal companies conducting massive mountain-top removal coal mining operations, with no reclamation expense, (coal is at record prices), and the taxpayers paying for huge bridges between mountain ridges and across rivers.

We need do need better, safer roads. But we have many other good reasons why people choose to live here. We have one of the lowest crime rates in the state, low taxes, no traffic congestion, clean air, beautiful mountains, and rivers.

And as my son who lives in Brooklyn observed, unlike his current locale, in Dickenson County it actually gets dark at night,and it is completely quiet of man-made sounds.

At 6:59 AM, Anonymous SADH4VBT said...

Jim, I suspect that Ireland and India have highly gov't subsidized rail systems dependent on tax rates that you would be loathe to recommend. And as their personal incomes rise, you can bet the demand for roads to accomodate the cars they are buying will grow.

The SWVA project in question is debateable and the same money might be better spent on other things in the region. I've always wondered at the idea that if you build the road they will come, just as I can see the fallacy in the opposite myth that you cling to with such blind faith -- if you don't build the road they wont.

At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

1.6 billion? for that amount of money, you could just flat out bribe 10 companies to move to the area.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Paul is right, on the other hand if we were willing to work for the wages prevaqlent in Bangalore, we wouldn't need to bribe them, then again, as Jerry's son points outm maybe we don't need to construct a new Bangalore in Dickenson County.


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