BRISTOL — The Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved the location of two sections of the Coalfields Expressway project in Virginia from U.S. Route 23 at Pound to its connection with the proposed State Route 460 Connector, and the Hawks Nest section in Buchanan County.
CTB approval of the location for the two sections will trigger a revision of the environmental assessment for the Coalfields Expressway accordingly, with the revised assessment to be forwarded to the Federal Highway Administration for a final decision.
The federal agency could either grant approval to the Virginia Department of Transportation to move forward to design specific construction segments, or require a supplemental environmental study.
Funding is available for two construction segments of the Coalfields Expressway project in Virginia, including the approximately seven-mile Pound connector in Wise and Dickenson counties and the approximately five-mile Doe Branch section in Buchanan County.
In 2006, VDOT and its private partners, Alpha Natural Resources and Rapoca Energy, entered into a Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA) agreement to build the expressway with the “coal synergy” construction method.
Essentially, the coal companies will surface mine coal along the chosen route to create a preliminary built-to-grade road bed for the Coalfields Expressway. By partnering with the coal companies, VDOT figures to build the expressway for about half the cost of traditional highway building methods.
Designated as U.S. Route 121 and a Congressional High Priority Corridor, the Virginia portion of the Coalfields Expressway is a proposed 50-mile, four-lane, limited-access highway passing through portions of Wise, Dickenson and Buchanan counties to the West Virginia border near the Buchanan County community of Slate.
The new transportation artery would connect to U.S. Route 23 in Wise County near Pound, and would traverse northeast into West Virginia to connect with I-77 near Beckley.
Much work has been completed in West Virginia but little on the Virginia side. About two miles have been constructed to rough grade in Buchanan County.