Gov. Jim Justice held a groundbreaking ceremony today, with leaders from the West Virginia Department of Transportation, to commemorate the start of new paving work on the Coalfields Expressway (WV 121) in Raleigh and Wyoming counties. This major construction is the latest roadwork project to get underway as part of Gov. Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program.
“There’s no question whatsoever that today is a wonderful day,” Gov. Justice said in his address to dozens in attendance for the groundbreaking. “We want to celebrate this day beyond belief because it means we are one step closer to bringing this area of West Virginia to the world once and for all.” The governor was joined at the event by Transportation Secretary Byrd White, acting Commissioner of Highways Jimmy Wriston, P.E., and other WVDOT officials, to celebrate the beginning of this next phase of roadwork, which will extend the four-lane section of the expressway beyond its current endpoint at Slab Fork in Raleigh County to the city of Mullens in Wyoming County.
This portion of work will span 8.9 miles and will mark the first time ever that a four-lane highway has been built anywhere in Wyoming County. “It’s truly is a big deal because we are starting to connect our people and our communities in southern West Virginia like never before,” Gov. Justice said. The project also includes construction of more than one mile of two-lane highway from the Mullens exit of the expressway, into the city. In total, this $33 million project will add 10 miles to the existing network of the Coalfields Expressway, extending its total length to 18 miles.
“Now, I’ve said over and over, these big projects are only worth our while if we fix up our secondary roads,” Gov. Justice said. “You need to be able to get to the convenience store, that’s why I’ve asked our Division of Highways to put maintenance first. But we still have to do our big projects and we are,” Gov. Justice continued. “And I know that this part of the Coalfields Expressway has been a long time coming; probably too long.”
The need for a highway through the state’s southern coalfields was first identified by lawmakers in the 1980’s. By 1995, the Coalfields Expressway Authority had been created and the route was recognized as a high-priority corridor and designated as part of the National Highway System. The first turn of dirt on the expressway began in the early 2000’s. But, due to a lack of funding, paving only got as far as Slab Fork before the project stalled out. Preliminary road grading had been completed between Slab Fork and Mullens before work stopped. However, in 2017, Gov. Justice committed to extending the Coalfields Expressway as part of his Roads to Prosperity program if the citizens of West Virginia passed his road bond referendum. Within one year of the bond passing by a large margin, a contract for the extension project was awarded.
“I came to you with the Roads to Prosperity bond and now two years later, this section of road is finally going to be done. After all those years waiting, we got it done,” Gov. Justice said. “There’s so many people who have worked like crazy to get to where we are now. But I also hope to goodness you look at your leader and see a governor who put an emphasis on getting this done, and lo and behold we are getting it done.” Kokosing Construction Company will be completing this extension of the expressway. Crews will cut the existing roadbed to final grade before they install more than 104,000 cubic yards of concrete from Slab Fork to Mullens.
The roadwork also calls for 100,000 feet of surface drainage pipe to be installed as well as 228,000 feet of striping to be completed. This phase of new paving work has an estimated completion date of late-October 2019. Gov. Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program also includes plans to further extend the Coalfields Expressway from Welch in McDowell County to the King Coal Highway/Coalfields Expressway interchange at WV Route 16. Upcoming roadwork on additional Roads to Prosperity projects will be announced in the near future, as asphalt plants continue to re-open with the spring weather.