GRUNDY, VA – NOVEMBER 9, 2023 – The completion of the first 2.57 miles of the Coalfields Expressway (CFX – U.S. Rt. 121) in Buchanan County was celebrated as a ribbon was cut marking the ceremonial opening of 8.7 miles of the U.S. Rt. 460/U.S. Rt. 121 Corridor Q road project from the Breaks Park Road area to Southern Gap.
The ceremony, hosted by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), was held at the Southern Gap Visitor Center in Buchanan County, Va.
The long-awaited road will officially be opened to travel by the general public as early as next week. The Coalfields Expressway mileage in the project is the first mileage to be completed and opened to traffic in the overall CFX project which ultimately will link Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties with Interstates 81 and 77. Additional areas of the roadway are still in the design phase.
Once the sign installation work on the current section wraps up, the roadway will officially be opened between Route 693 (Breaks Park Road) and Route 744 at Southern Gap.
“The ribbon cutting marks a significant milestone in the Coalfields Expressway project as it is the first mileage in the road to be completed and opened to travel by the public,” said Virginia Coalfields Expressway Authority Executive Director Jonathan Belcher, who also serves as executive director/general counsel for the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) which provides staff support for the CFX Authority. “The CFX Authority has been working closely with VDOT and our state and federal legislators to acquire funding for the project and thanks to federal appropriations, was able to see a section of the road initially planned as two lanes extended to four. An additional $7 million federal appropriation has been proposed and is pending in the FY24 federal budget process which will allow additional four-laning to further advance the expressway project.”
“The opening of this road will really help Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties” said Jay Rife, chairman of the Virginia Coalfields Expressway Authority and chairman of the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority.
The benefits of the road include how it will allow better access to the region, enhancing economic development efforts, health care and quality of life, as well as to improve travel times for local residents.
Rife pointed to the decades-long wait for the road, noting he had been at the first meeting held in 1996 at which the first mention of the Coalfields Expressway had been made. He added the three counties which will benefit most from its construction and the links it will provide to Kentucky and West Virginia are committed to do the work needed to advance the roadway. He suggested funding at the state level as well as continued funding at the federal level, would further assist the development and completion of the project.
A number of legislators were present for the celebration and spoke briefly, including Sen. Travis Hackworth and representatives of U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner’s offices, Rep. Morgan Griffith’s office and Virginia Sen. Todd Pillion’s office. Also in attendance was Tom Lester, representing Virginia Del. Will Morefield; and former Virginia Sen. Bill Carrico.
Additional attendees included members of the Virginia Coalfields Expressway Authority and the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA); Belcher; representatives of the Virginia and Kentucky Departments of Transportation; and speakers, who included Thomas Smith, senior transportation advisor for the Appalachian Regional Commission; Gary Taylor, president of Bizzack Construction, LLC, the contractor on the project; Marty Halloway, VDOT Bristol mega projects engineer; and Tabitha Crowder, VDOT Bristol District engineer.
Two portions of Corridor Q, designated as U.S. Rt. 460, remain under construction and include the 2.74-mile Poplar Creek Phase A portion scheduled to open in late 2025 and the 2.07-mile Poplar Creek Phase B portion scheduled to open in late 2027.
When completed, Phase B will include the second tallest bridge in Virginia, with the tallest bridge also being along Corridor Q near the Virginia/Kentucky state line and Breaks Interstate Park. The tallest bridge in Virginia opened to traffic in November 2020.
Poplar Creek Phase A includes the construction of a culvert beneath the roadway, one of the deepest fill for a precast box culvert in the nation at 310 feet of maximum cover at its midsection.
Corridor Q, which extends 127.5 miles eastward from the Virginia/Kentucky state line near Breaks to Interstate 81, near Christiansburg, is part of the National Highway System and also part of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS). ADHS is the centerpiece of the Appalachian Regional Commission’s effort to foster economic and social development in the multi-state Appalachian region. The Coalfields Expressway (U.S. Rt. 121), portions of which lie within Corridor Q, has been designated as a Congressional High Priority corridor.
About the Virginia Coalfields Expressway Authority: The Virginia Coalfields Expressway Authority was formed by the Virginia General Assembly in 2017 to improve the transportation into, from, within and through Southwest Virginia; to assist in regional economic development; and to generally enhance highway safety in the affected localities of Southwest Virginia. The Coalfields Expressway, designated as U.S. Route 121 and a Congressional High Priority Corridor, is a proposed limited-access highway to provide a modern, safe and efficient transportation artery through the coalfields region of far Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority provides staff support to the authority board. www.vceda.us/cfxauthority.