Monday, January 16, 2006

Creative Thinking, or Wishful Thinking, for the Coalfield Expressway?

I've noted more than once on this blog that I regard the proposed $2.3 billion Coalfield Expressway in far Southwestern Virginia as a boondoggle that will swallow the region's political capital for years to come and deliver little in the way of economic development. But I will give credit to SW Virginians for doing some creative thinking on how to get the unfunded project off the ground.

News comes from The Bristol Herald-Courier that Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal operators in Central Appalachia, and the Pioneer Group have replaced Kellogg Brown & Root, the construction-engineering firm that has been involved in the project so far. According to reporter Kathy Still, Alpha and Pioneer will "harvest coal along the highway's sometimes rugged route and leave behind land more easily graded into a roadbed. The work could lower the cost of the project significantly, officials said."

I don't know how much coal Alpha-Pioneer expects to recover, but it won't be much. If a Virginia coal seam hasn't been mined out by now, it's because the seam is thin or otherwise difficult to extract coal from. Moreover, coal seams aren't necessarily located at elevations that will coincide with the optimal placement of the highway.

But, hey, it's an idea. Anything that could reduce the cost of the project is worth looking into -- as long as it doesn't run up the design fees any more than the $30 million already sunk into the project.


At 10:31 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Probably not any more wishful thinking than the idea that development patterns can solve traffic congestion.

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