WISE, VA – JUNE 28, 2024 – The Virginia Coalfields Expressway (CFX) Authority agreed Thursday to submit a request to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) asking that the Coalfields Expressway (Route 121) in Virginia be added to the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS). Currently, only the sections of U.S. 121 that overlay U.S. 460 are within the ADHS system as part of Corridor Q. The remaining sections of the roadway – the majority of it – are not currently within the ARC designation.

The  action to approve the request came during a meeting of the authority board at The Inn at Wise in Wise, VA. If the ARC approves the request, the authority would become eligible to apply for ARC funding for the remaining section of the roadway.

The board also authorized Virginia CFX Authority Executive Director Jonathan Belcher to begin exploring with state legislators the possibility of creating a “U.S. Route 121 Corridor Development Fund,” similar to the existing U.S. Route 58 Corridor Development Fund created by the legislature years ago.

Both measures were passed unanimously by the board. Updates on funding and construction progress related to the CFX were also provided by Belcher during the meeting

New board member Ronnie Shortt, of Wise County, was welcomed to the board. Shortt, who was recently appointed by the Virginia Speaker of the House, replaces Bonnie Bates, whose term expires June 30.

The Speaker of the House also reappointed Jay Rife and James Keen, of Buchanan County; and Melanie Salyer, of Wise County, to the authority. Rife is the current chairman. The Senate Rules Committee reappointed J.H. Rivers, of Wise County; Scott Mullins, of Dickenson County; and Ed Talbott, of Buchanan County, to the authority. Additional members of the authority board include Philip Cook, Buchanan County; Keith Viers, Harry Childress and Shelbie Willis, Dickenson County; and John Schoolcraft, Wise County.

Marty Halloway, with the Virginia Department of Transportation, briefed members of the Virginia CFX Authority Thursday on the timeline for construction along segments of the new U.S. 460 (Corridor Q). A portion of the CFX — 7.02 miles — overlaps the corridor. The first miles of the expressway — 2.57 miles – were opened to traffic in November.

Belcher noted that for the first time in the history of the authority, the governor had included and the General Assembly had approved $250,000 for FY25 and $250,000 for FY26 for operational funding for the authority. It marks the first time the authority, created in 2017, has received any funding to operate. The move followed an October 2022 request to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for funding. According to the approved budget language, the funds will be managed by the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA). VCEDA has been providing staff support for the authority since 2020.

Also related to funding, Belcher noted the authority has seen success in FY22, FY23 and FY24 in securing $1.995 million, $7 million and $7 million, respectively, in congressionally directed spending to be used by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for various elements of the Coalfields Expressway and related projects. Buchanan County provided a $1.75 million match on the FY24 spending and has also committed to provide a $1.75 million match for a FY25 request for $7 million in additional funds for the Corridor Q – U.S. 460 Connector Phase II Paving Project. As proposed, that project will four-lane approximately four miles of U.S. 460 (Corridor Q) from the intersection with Virginia Route 80 near the Breaks Interstate Park to the intersection of Virginia Route 609 where it joins and becomes the Coalfields Expressway. The funding is needed to complete the four-lane from Grundy, VA to Pikeville, KY.

Belcher noted a portion of the CFX (7.02 miles) overlaps the new US 460 (Corridor Q). The first miles of the expressway (2.57 miles), Belcher added, opened in November 2023 as part of this corridor from the Kentucky state line to Route 744 at Southern Gap. At the request of the CFX Authority, VDOT has agreed to install the first Coalfields Expressway road signage this summer on the section which is open in Buchanan County.

A presentation by VDOT was given during the meeting by Marty Halloway. Estimates provided by VDOT on the completion of additional segments of Corridor Q are currently as follows:

  • Route 744 to Route 604 (Poplar Creek) – late 2025.
  • Route 604 (Poplar Creek) to Grundy – late 2027.
  • Construction of remaining sections in Virginia currently remain unfunded.

In other business, the board agreed to approve a request from VDOT to consent to VDOT requesting a reallocation of remaining FY2022 Congressionally Directed Spending funds originally allocated for the “U.S. Route 121 Grundy, VA to WV State Line Pre-Engineering Project” to the “Corridor Q – U.S. 460 Connector Phase II Paving Project” for which the Virginia Coalfields Expressway Authority has applied for FY2025 Congressionally Directed Spending.

In other business, Belcher noted the required 2023 annual report was submitted to the Governor and General Assembly on January 2, 2024; and he added staff met with VDOT, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), Buchanan County and the Breaks Interstate Park to discuss the addition of “wildlife viewing pullovers” along the corridor near the Breaks Interstate Park.

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.