LEBANON, VA – DECEMBER 9, 2022 – A letter asking Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to consider including $500,000 annually in the state budget for the Virginia Coalfields Expressway (CFX) Authority to help advance the Coalfields Expressway in Virginia has been sent to the governor by Virginia CFX Authority Executive Director Jonathan Belcher.

Belcher told authority members at the December 9 authority board meeting in Lebanon that the letter was sent to the governor in mid-October and in it, he had stressed the need for the roadway.

“I am of the opinion that the Coalfields Expressway may offer the only real solution to the economic plight of many areas of the coalfields,” Belcher said he wrote in the letter. “Without this necessary infrastructure, these areas will continue to struggle economically and that is not even mentioning the tremendous health care and educational opportunities and other benefits the road will provide.”

The Virginia CFX Authority was formed by the General Assembly in 2017 “to improve the transportation into, from, within, and through Southwest Virginia, assist in regional economic development, and generally enhance highway safety in the affected localities” of Southwest Virginia. Belcher noted when the General Assembly first formed the authority, no funding was provided for it, leaving the authority unfunded to this date.

“This has created a considerable challenge to the authority being able to meet its mission,” Belcher wrote in the letter.

Virginia CFX Authority members listen to an update on the Coalfields Expressway project during a meeting of the authority held Friday in Lebanon.

“I know you recognize the importance of the Coalfields Expressway (U.S. 121) because you referenced it during your campaign in the gubernatorial debate held at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy,” Belcher wrote in the letter to the governor. “The only section of the CFX funded and under construction in Virginia are a few miles shared with U.S. 460 as part of the ‘Corridor Q’ project in Buchanan County. Without the Coalfields Expressway (U.S. 121) being completed in both states, neither state will realize the full benefit.”

The governor’s budget proposals are expected to be released in the next few days. Belcher told board members he remained hopeful funding for the authority would be included in the budget.

Virginia Senator Travis Hackworth, who was in attendance at Friday’s meeting, told authority members he is actively working with the governor’s office and General Assembly leadership to see what he can do from his end in support of the funding request.

Other legislative officials in attendance at Friday’s meeting included Laura Blevins from Sen. Tim Kaine’s office; and Cody Mumpower from Congressman Morgan Griffith’s office.

Authority Member James Keen suggested that if getting funding is successful, the authority’s next step should be to hire an engineering firm to explore where the plans of mining companies align with the needs of the Coalfields Expressway.  This would be in furtherance of the coal synergies approach to developing portions of the road which also happen to align with planned mining operations which could leave a rough grade roadbed.

“It’s going to be a difficult task, but we can’t get discouraged,” Virginia CFX Authority Chairman Jay Rife said during the discussion. “This is a long-term project.”

In other business at Friday’s meeting, CFX Authority members elected officers for the coming year including Jay Rife of Buchanan County, who was reelected as chairman; and J.H. Rivers of Wise County, who was reelected as vice chairman.

Members of the authority include Bonnie Bates, Wise County, Speaker of the House Appointee; Philip Cook, Buchanan County, Ex Officio, Buchanan Co. Board of Supervisors; James Keen, Buchanan County, Speaker of the House Appointee; Peggy Kiser, Dickenson County, Ex Officio, Dickenson County Board of Supervisors; Scott Mullins, Dickenson County, Senate Rules Committee Appointee; Jay Rife, Buchanan County, Speaker of the House Appointee; J.H. Rivers, Wise County, Senate Rules Committee Appointee; Melanie Salyer, Wise County, Speaker of the House Appointee; John Schoolcraft, Wise County, Ex Officio, Wise County Board of Supervisors; and Ed Talbott, Buchanan County, Senate Rules Committee Appointee.

Two Speaker of the House Appointee seats for Dickenson County on the board remain vacant. The Speaker of the House has been contacted and asked to fill the vacancies as soon as possible.

Belcher also provided a brief funding update on the Coalfields Expressway project, noting a congressionally directed funding request of $1.995 million for Grundy to the West Virginia state line pre-engineering was included in the FY22 federal budget.

He noted the Virginia Department of Transportation is currently working on that study.

A congressionally directed funding request of $7 million for paving of additional lanes along the CFX sections of Corridor Q was included in the Senate version of the FY23 federal budget. The House version includes $3.5 million. The final number will be known as soon as the FY23 federal budget is approved at the federal level.

Those funds will be used by VDOT to either pave additional lanes at the US 121/460 intersection and Hawk’s Nest sections (2.21 miles of four-lane) or widen the truck climbing lanes on CFX between Routes 744 & 609 (4-5 miles of four-lane).

Belcher noted that completion dates for Corridor Q segments of the roadway are currently projected by VDOT as follows:

  • KY state line to Route 744 (Southern Gap) – early fall 2023;
  • Route 744 to Route 604 (Poplar Creek) – early 2025; and
  • Route 604 (Poplar Creek) to Grundy – late 2027.

Construction of remaining sections in Virginia remain unfunded, Belcher noted, adding West Virginia plans to complete its sections within 10 years.

The next meeting of the authority will be held in the spring of 2023.

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.