GRUNDY, VA – MARCH 30, 2023 – A request for $7 million in Congressionally Directed Spending for four-laning of US 121 (Coalfields Expressway)/US 460 Poplar Creek Phase A and Phase B segments in Buchanan County, was filed by the Virginia Coalfields Expressway Authority with federal legislators earlier this month.

The application for funding, filed with Congressman Morgan Griffith, Senator Tim Kaine and Senator Mark Warner, targets five additional miles of the Coalfields Expressway (CFX) for widening to four-lane construction between the corporate limits of the Town of Grundy and the Southern Gap Industrial Park.  $7 million is the most than can be requested annually for a project under the Congressionally Directed Spending program.  

“As evidence of the importance of this project, on March 6, 2023, the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors approved up to a $1.75 million cost share match for this project, if such a match is required,” said Virginia CFX Authority Executive Director Jonathan Belcher, who also serves as executive director/general counsel of the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA). VCEDA provides staff support for the Virginia CFX Authority.

“We believe that if this $7 million can be raised, combined with the up to $1.75 million cost share match agreed to by the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be able to add additional lanes to U.S. 121/460 from Grundy to where it will connect with the Hawk’s Nest section of the road south of Southern Gap (in other words add lanes to Poplar Creek Phase A (2.74 miles) and Poplar Creek Phase B (2.07 miles),” Belcher said. “Without this funding, those two sections will remain two lanes with truck climbing lanes. If included in the FY24 federal budget, the funds will be managed by VDOT.

Construction activity continues on the Poplar Creek Phase A section of the future Coalfields Expressway route. (Photo courtesy/Virginia Department of Transportation)

“There is widespread community support for this request,” he added, pointing to the numerous letters of support the CFX Authority gathered prior to the submittal. “Combined with funding already previously committed, this would result in a four-lane all the way from Grundy to at least the U.S.121/460 intersection at Southern Gap. This would be a major benefit to the community and is very important for the economic development of the area.”

In addition to letters of support accompanying the application from Virginia Del. Will Morefield and Virginia Sen. Travis Hackworth, letters of support were also received and sent by the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors, the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority, the Town of Grundy, the Town of Grundy Industrial Development Authority, the Buchanan County Chamber of Commerce, VCEDA, the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission, the Breaks Interstate Park, the Breaks Regional Airport Authority, the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, the Appalachian School of Law, Southwest Virginia Community College, the Coalfields Health Foundation, Paul’s Fan Company and Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure.

“Having this section of the Coalfields Expressway as a four lane would be extremely beneficial to the economy and quality of life in Buchanan County, which has been hit hard in recent years by the downturn in the coal mining industry,” said Virginia CFX Authority Chairman Jay Rife. “Having this four-lane would provide much better access to the Southern Gap development and the Breaks Interstate Park, both of which are very important economically to the area. Without a good four-lane highway to our Southern Gap Industrial Park, it will be very hard to attract good paying jobs to the county.”

Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Matthew Fields noted in his letter, the improved road would be “very beneficial” for trade, tourism, education and healthcare, all of which are important to the community.

“Our area has been hard hit in recent years due to the up and down nature of the coal mining industry and this four-lane highway would open up our area to new opportunities which could offset some of the many challenges this region faces,” Fields added.

Writing on behalf of VCEDA, Belcher noted, “the Coalfields Expressway, in our view, is the most important economic development initiative for our region. Without improved transportation access, the coalfields of Southwest Virginia may always struggle economically. The addition of more four-lane highway will be extremely beneficial to the economy and quality of life of this entire area.”

Lastly, Belcher noted discussions with federal legislative offices concerning the request have gone well. 

“The level of support the Coalfields Expressway has received from Congressman Griffith, Senator Kaine and Senator Warner has been tremendous,” Belcher said. “They understand the need for the road and although the rest of us can advocate for this project, it is really due to the efforts of Griffith, Kaine and Warner that progress on the unfunded parts of the CFX has been made. We could not ask for any better support than they have provided.”

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.