GRUNDY, VA – DECEMBER 12, 2023 — Virginia Coalfields Expressway Authority staff members continue to communicate regularly with both state and federal legislative offices about the expressway project, Virginia CFX Authority Executive Director Jonathan Belcher, told authority members December 11 during a meeting of the authority board at Southern Gap.
Belcher also serves as executive director and general counsel of the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) which provides staff support to the CFX Authority.
“The Coalfields Expressway continues to be the only solution to the economic plight of many areas of the coalfields,” Belcher said, emphasizing the importance of the road to economic development initiatives in the region.
Federal legislators, he added, have been instrumental in obtaining new federal funding for the CFX, including $1.995 million in 2021 for pre-engineering of the roadway from Grundy to the West Virginia state line. The Virginia Department of Transportation presented the findings of that study and several possible alignments for the roadway during Monday’s meeting and immediately thereafter during a public meeting held at the Southern Gap Transportation and Logistics Center. In all, 14 options were presented which combine into nine alternate routes to traverse the 16 miles from Grundy to the West Virginia state line. Both northern and southern ridgetop routes were examined. VDOT officials noted that the purpose of Monday’s public meeting was to present the options identified in the pre-engineering study, but not to select a preferred alternative at this time.
Belcher, during his presentation to the board prior to the VDOT presentation, noted additional federal funding was included in the FY23 budget for $7 million to be used for the paving of additional lanes along the US 121/460 intersection and Hawk’s Nest sections of the roadway. Those sections of the road were officially opened to travel last month.
A second $7 million is being sought for FY24 to pave additional lanes along a 4.81-mile stretch of the Poplar Creek Phase A&B sections of the CFX. Belcher noted the request has already passed the U.S. Senate and is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“This section of the road is particularly critical because it would complete the four-laning of the CFX from the Town of Grundy to the Southern Gap industrial park and mixed-use development,” Belcher said.
Looking ahead, he noted state matching funds are needed to make the CFX project eligible for most federal grant programs to which the authority might apply for funding and he added the expressway needs to be added to the Appalachian Regional Commission ADHS system to make it eligible for Appalachian Regional Commission funding.
Belcher noted that promoting the expressway and its importance is one of the goals of the authority and toward that end, he said, with the assistance of VCEDA, several ads have been placed and are pending to promote and advertise the CFX. Additionally, updates are provided regularly on the project through VCEDA news releases and social media channels and through a dedicated page on the VCEDA website.
While the first section of the expressway to open has been in Buchanan County, Belcher said work is also ongoing related to other aspects of the project. Discussions on the Pound bypass and the existing Pound intersection have also been underway.
Lastly, Belcher provided board members with a brief construction update, noting, 8.7 miles of the new US460/121 from the Kentucky state line to Rt. 744 at Southern Gap is now open – some 2.57 miles of that road represent the first completed miles of the Coalfields Expressway in Virginia. Mileage from Route 744 to Route 604 (Poplar Creek) is expected to be complete in early 2025; and Route 604 (Poplar Creek) to Grundy is expected to be completed in late 2027.
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.