CLINTWOOD, VA – JUNE 27, 2023 – Consideration of how best to raise cost share matching funds in seeking large federal grants to advance construction of the Coalfields Expressway in Virginia was among the topics of discussion as members of the Virginia Coalfields Expressway (CFX) Authority met at the Dickenson Center for Education and Research in Clintwood, Va., Monday.

Josh Evans, chairman of the Dickenson County Board of Supervisors, who is also a member of the CFX Authority board, welcomed authority board members to Dickenson County and thanked them for meeting in Dickenson County.

Throughout the discussion Monday, several board members noted the three counties which comprise the authority – Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise – are all in it together as what benefits one county related to the completion of the roadway will ultimately benefit all three by serving to further open access to the area. In addition to the importance of sections of the roadway now under construction in Buchanan County, CFX Authority Chairman Jay Rife noted the section of the roadway from Pound to Dickenson County is equally important and remains a priority of the authority board.

Jonathan Belcher, who serves as executive director of the Virginia CFX Authority, provided a staff update noting staff met with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Bristol and Richmond staff to learn more about applying for larger federal grants for the CFX. He said a cost share match will be required in order to apply for larger grants which might be available and suggested the CFX Authority may want to give some consideration to seeking a study on how best to raise cost share match, which he said may require state legislation.

Following the discussion, the CFX Authority board authorized Belcher to work with the affected counties – Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise — in pursuing funding for the study through VCEDA.

The board also welcomed new board member Harry Childress, representing Dickenson County, who was recently appointed to the authority board by the Virginia Speaker of the House. Keith Viers, of Dickenson County, was also reappointed by the Speaker. They join current members of the Virginia CFX Authority: Jay Rife, James Keen, Ed Talbott and Philip Cook, Buchanan County; Scott Mullins and Josh Evans of Dickenson County; and Bonnie Bates, Melanie Salyer, J.H. Rivers and John Schoolcraft, Wise County.

Authority members heard an update from VDOT’s Marty Halloway on the expressway project and also heard from Dickenson County Economic Development Director Dana Cronkhite who provided an overview of economic development initiatives and planning underway in Dickenson County, citing the critical importance of the Coalfields Expressway in realizing the full potential of projects and planning underway in that county.

Funding and construction updates related to the CFX project were also discussed. Belcher noted funding for the authority was requested in the FY24 state budget, but was not included, leaving the authority with no funds to operate. Currently, the authority receives staff support from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority.

Belcher said staff continues to communicate regularly with both state and federal legislative offices about the CFX and he noted federal legislators, including Congressman Morgan Griffith and U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, have been instrumental in obtaining new federal funding for the roadway. A combination of both state and federal funding will be necessary, however, to develop the project, he said. He added staff also met with Senator Joe Manchin at the SelectUSA event in the Washington D.C., area recently and communicated with Manchin’s staff related to the CFX Authority.

There have been some successful federal funding requests since the authority began its work, Belcher said, pointing to the congressionally directed spending request submitted by the CFX Authority in 2021 for $1.995 million for Grundy to WV state line pre-engineering which was included in the FY22 federal budget.

VDOT is currently working on the pre-engineering study with an environmental study, geotechnical exploration and an updated survey underway.

Halloway noted the studies are on course and he estimated public meetings to look at potential alignments would be held as early as the end of the year. Traffic studies, he said, are being conducted which look at not only current volume, but also take into consideration the various routes, where they connect and where growth is anticipated in the future. The work he said is being done in coordination with state of West Virginia and its planning for the expressway in that state.

Halloway said currently 20 alignments of the roadway segment from Grundy to the West Virginia state line are being examined which will be narrowed down to eight by the end of the year.

In his update, Belcher also noted the congressionally directed spending request submitted by the CFX Authority in 2022 for $7 million for paving of additional lanes along the US 121/460 Intersection and Hawk’s Nest sections of the CFX was included in the FY23 federal budget. Those funds are being used by VDOT to pave additional lanes at the US 121/460 Intersection and Hawk’s Nest sections (2.21 miles of 4-lane).

Still pending is a congressionally directed spending request submitted by the CFX Authority in 2023 for $7 million in FY24 federal funds for paving of additional lanes along the Poplar Creek Phase A & Phase B sections of the CFX. The funds, if approved, would be used by VDOT to pave additional lanes at the Poplar Creek Phase A & Phase B sections of the CFX (4.81 miles) and Belcher said that allocation is particularly critical because it would complete the 4-lane from the Town of Grundy to the Southern Gap industrial park and mixed-use development in Buchanan County.

A construction update was also provided related to the new U.S. 460 (Corridor Q), a portion of which – 7.02 miles — is overlapped by the CFX.

An estimate from VDOT on the completion of the following segments of Corridor Q was provided and showed:

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

Construction of remaining sections of the Coalfields Expressway in Virginia remain unfunded.

The next meeting of the Virginia CFX Authority board will be held this fall.

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.