Corridor H

Corridor H is a highway being built through the heart of senic West Virginia. We believe it to be a tremendouly wasteful and destructive use of our tax dollars. Concerned citizen groups and indiviuals have been fighting the constuction of this highway since 1996. The West Virgina Division Of Highways (WVDOH) has a pro-constuction website on Corridor H that includes project timeline with details on the various suits, appeals, and settlements.

July 2012 Update:
Some Built, But Still Nowhere

A June 2012 WV Division of Highways map shows the Elkins bypass, Forman (Grant/Hardy County line) to Moorefield, and Moorefield to Wardensville sections completed. The Forman to Bismarck and Bismarck to Davis sections are under construction, at a cost running at least $15 million a mile. Final design is underway east of Kerens.

But on the two most controversial sections--Wardensville to the Virginia line and the Blackwater Canyon section which would split the twin towns of Davis and Thomas--final design has not begun. Friends of Blackwater Canyon has been battling in federal courts and agencies over the endangered West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel, which nests in trees and is hurt by extensive logging and the forest fragmentation and development which would follow the building of a four-lane highway. The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy is poised to sue if WVDOH continues its intention of routing Corridor H through that sensitive area.

In 2010, then-Governor Joe Manchin told H supporters that Parsons to Davis spur would not be built until 2031, and Wardensville to Virginia in 2027.

Meanwhile, the glorious new four-lane sections have, as predicted, almost no traffic. On the non-Corridor H east-west roads between Virginia and Elkins, including parts of Route 50, the highway department has built some passing lanes, which relieve drivers from getting stuck behind logging trucks. Why couldn’t they have made these improvements to begin with? Corridor H is part of an outdated concept to help Appalachia by running traffic through it.

January 2010: Escape To Nowhere

About 40 miles of Corridor H, the very costly and environmentally damaging highway proposed to run 100 miles from Strasburg VA to Elkins WV was constructed from Wardensville to Moorefield, and as expected, has very little traffic. A bridge across the South Branch of the Potomac River was completed in September. An additional 19 mile stretch between Moorefield and Scherr is currently under construction, with the historic Greenland Gap area torn up and looking like a huge gravel pit. A 10.37-mile paving contract is underway, to connect the western edge of the Moorefield Bridge to Patterson Creek Road and Forman in Grant County, planed to open by fall 2010.

A 23 mile stretch connecting Scherr and Davis (Tucker County) is under final design and awaiting funding. Senator Robert C. Byrd got $4.5 million and is trying to get Congress to reauthorize the Appalachian Development highway system. But, as Huntington Herald-Dispatch columnist Tom Miller pointed out Sept. 27, 2009, that's a drop in the bucket. Each mile is costing $20 million to build, and Corridor H is running 300% over its initial $1 billion budget. Final design has not started on the remaining 45 miles, which includes sections between Kerens and Davis and Wardensville, and Strasburg, Va. Virginia still has no plans to build its section.

The Obama administration cut Corridor H out of its budget, but Senator Byrd and Governor Manchin are trying to justify funding the unneeded four-lane as an escape route for thousands of DC residents fleeing a national disaster. Homeland security officials joined the usual poultry and real estate interests at a pep rally for Corridor H when the Moorefield bridge opened. We wonder what plans are being made to help Corridor H evacuees who run out of gas in the middle of the Mountain State? It's still a Road to Nowhere, folks.

January 2009: Fix the Roads We Have!

As gas prices skyrocketed last year, highway use dropped, and so did gas tax revenues. Road repairs suffered. A happy byproduct was less funding for the destructive, unneeded Corridor H highway. Parts of it are being built between Moorefield and Bismarck in Hardy and Grant County, in addition to the Moorefield to Wardensville stretch that is finished and hardly used. However, the WV DOT Division of Highways revised its projections on the sections between Kerens and Parsons (no construction until 2017), Parsons to Davis, including Blackwater Canyon (no construction until 2029) and Wardensville to Virginia line (no construction til 2025). You can find details on each of the segments from WVDOH at wvcorridorh.com/route/route.html.

With U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-WV, stepping down as appropriations chair, Corridor H funding will continue to be tight, even though Gov. Joe Manchin tried to get Homeland Security funding last year for corridor H as an escape route for people fleeing a projected terrorist attack on D.C.

January 2008: Enough is Enough?

To the tune of $840,300,000 -- about twice as much as budgeted -- Corridor H been completed from Moorefield to Wardensville. Another section is currently plowing through the environmentally sensitive South Branch Valley floodplains west of Moorefield. A map of what's built and unbuilt is avaiable at WVDOH site.

Building a four-lane highway through the eastern mountains of West Virginia has always been controversial. There are good points of the 40 miles built so far. You can drive through Hardy County and around Elkins faster for jobs, shopping and visiting. In fact, driving it across the mountaintops is so grandly private and strangely quiet, you feel the government has spent the $840 million just for you. Bad points: we can't even remember what those mountains and hollows used to look like. Farms, wildlife, historic sites and houses are gone forever.

More people are stopping in Wardensville, where Corridor H currently ends. Projects the town has worked on for years, a visitors center and an antique shop, have opened, along with practical hardware and drug stores and a fun artisan craft brewery and pub Lost River Brewing Co..

But businesses catering to outdoor tourism, arts, and history are also thriving in Thomas and Davis, Tucker County -- two other small towns that Corridor H has not reached. If Corridor H goes all the way through, it will bypass all these downtowns businesses and encourage more truck stops and fast food stores at the interchanges instead. This is an outdated model of economic development. According to new surveys presented at the Create WV conference last month, small towns and country roads draw a lot of folks to West Virginia. In fact, central WV has a new publication full of whimsical articles for locals and tourists. It's called "Two Lane Livin'." The future lies in cherishing what is unique about West Virginia, not in trying to create another suburb.

Meanwhile, WV politicians are searching desperately in DC for funding to complete the 100-mile four-lane, which was named as a top environmental boondoggle by Friends of the Earth. The latest funding idea -- seriously discussed by Gov. Joe Manchin's administration and Senator Byrd -- promotes Corridor H as an escape route for millions escaping DC after a terrorist attack. Imagine the joy of thousands of panicky motorists being dumped into the middle of the Mon Forest! What's left of West Virginia -- what isn't covered by powerlines, over-sized windmills, or coal-removed mountaintops -- may be trampled underfoot when the gas runs out.

Corridor H would be most helpful if the highway department quits building it now, before more damage is done.

January 2007: Crawling Towards Construction

A treacherous bridge over Lost River just east of Baker delayed the opening of the Baker-Wardensville section of the Corridor H highway. According to a report in the State Journal business newspaper Sept. 29, 2006, the $21.3 million McCauley bridge was supposed to have been finished by August 2005. But WVDOH did not penalize the contractor C.J. Mahan for lateness because WVDOH altered specifications to reinforce the bridge decking. McCauley is the site of a scenic formation called Hanging Rock and the historic Baughman house. Corridor H Alternatives tried unsuccessfully to designate it a historic district that Corridor H would have had to avoid. Word on the street is that the curved bridge is vulnerable to cold and slippery winter conditions. Old Route 55 is still available to traffic and might be the safer way to travel.

Corridor H sections are complete from Wardensville to Moorefield and from Elkins to Kerens. Just west of Moorefield, contracts have been awarded for a $30.9 million bridge across the South Branch River and levee, and a $50.3 million road section from Moorefield to Forman. Not even on the design books yet are sections from Wardensville to Virginia, because Virginia pledged not to build its section; and from Davis to Parsons, which includes the Monongahela National Forest and Blackwater Canyon.

Real estate speculation in Hardy County has skyrocketed because of the local presence of the four-lane, even if it will be years, if ever, before in connects to major roads. Trucks are also being routed from the four-lane onto Routes 29 and 259 to connect with Route 50 to I-81, even though these country two lane highways were not designed to handle big trucks.

Environmental groups led by Corridor H Alternatives fought an eight year battle in the 1990s against this unneeded four-lane cutting across Hardy, Grant, Tucker and Randolph Counties. The national Green Scissors report listed it among financially wasteful and environmentally destructive government projects. Main proponents included road builders, trucking and warehouse industries, and Moorefield poultry processors.

January 2004 Update

The Division of Highways continues to grind away at our beautiful hills and to fill our meandering valleys. A drive on Route 55 west from Wardensville to Moorefield reveals a scene of demoralizing devastation--a succession of deep cuts and huge fills creating an ugly, unnatural moonscape with towering monoliths ruining the scenic beauty of Hanging Rock and The Sinks. And then there is the environmental degradation. Hurricane Isabel and the more recent storms have shown what happens when the thin natural cover is removed and newer, steeper slopes manufactured: severe runoff and excessive silting of the adjacent streams and rivers. The dollar costs have continued to rise, too, as work crews have had to contend with both the hard quartzite of Sandy Ridge and the more porous karst further west.

Right now, the completed sections of the road are from Elkins to Kerens in the west and Moorefield to Baker in the east. The last part from Crites Store to Cunnigham Lane was just opened. In the Baker to Wardensville section, the roadbeds are complete and partially paved The bridges are not expected to be finished until early 2005. Only then will that section be opened.

DOH plans to proceed now with the Forman to Moorefield section where they have begun to acquire land and let contracts, and for which they have existing funds. As for the remaining sections, everything hinges on how much money will be appropriated in the new transportation bill. In the case of the Wardensville to Virginia line section, DOH must still adhere to a legal settlement with Corridor H Alternatives. In particular, DOH must demonstrate a specific volume of traffic before it can build that section. We at Stewards will continue to monitor this situation and may hire our own traffic consultant to check the department's figures.

As for the benefits, local opinion is mixed. We can now all drive more easily, and probably more safely to Moorefield. But people are also concerned about increased real estate development that is partially a product of the road and what it will mean for the rural character of the area. And will the road produce the larger economic benefits that were claimed for it? Stay tuned.

Background

Stewards of the Potomac Highlands and West Virginia Rivers Coalition, along with local citizen plaintiffs, filed suit in November 2001 against WVDOH for their failure to follow regulations designed to limit construction runoff. The department admitted their error and changed the design of their sediment ponds. Neil Gillies, chief scientist at Cacapon Institute has done an excellent web page on construction sediment. Basically, sediment runoff--plain old mudharms fish and stream invertebrates. Trout are especially susceptible -- sediment interferes with their breathing, feeding and breeding. To read an explanation and see the ugly pictures of Corridor H, go to www.cacaponinstitute.org.

Unfortunately, these lawsuits have only delayed, not stopped, construction/destruction in the sensitive Lost River watershed, which is honeycombed with caves and offers some of the state's most scenic views. And the cuts and fills are so drastic that even the best sediment ponds cannot stop all the runoff. Take a drive on Route 55 in Hardy County, and Route 219 east of Elkins, and see the destruction for yourself. It's starting to look a lot like the southern coalfields.

Elkins to Kerens 5.5 miles

This segment was completed and open to traffic in August 2002.

Kerens to Parsons 13.5 miles

WVDOH is studying re-routes for this sections which include Corricks Ford and Shavers Fork. The Jan. 31 status report said they were to issue a Record of Decision in April-nearly two years later than they stated in 2001. They have no dates for beginning final design, right of way acquisition or construction. Corridor H Alternatives, commenting on the final Environmental Impact Statement, noted that the completed section from Elkins to Kerens generated 2.5 times more excess excavation than the preliminary designs had indicated. If the actual land disturbance is that much greater than planned, it follows none of the environmental impact statements will turn out to be accurate, and damage is much more extensive than WVDOH said during the environmental evaluation process.

Parsons to Davis (Blackwater Canyon section) 9 miles

WVDOH planned to issue a final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision in the summer of 2001, and now they plan this for December 2003. They have no dates for beginning of final design and right of way acquisition, or construction. This section will be seriously challenged by environmental groups, since it runs through the Monongahela National Forest as well as the Canyon. In the minutes of the Thomas/Davis community committee in summer 2002, DOH engineers told the group that their section would be build last, in maybe nine years, and that finishing the rest of H will cost from $3 to 6 billion.

Davis to Bismarck 16.5 miles

WVDOH issued the Record of Decision for this flat section paralleling Route 93 in March 2001. Its "estimated" dates for beginning final design are July 2001, and right of way acquisition "estimated" to begin in October 2003.

Citizens interested in monitoring and contesting the above western sections should contact Hugh Rogers, Corridor H Alternatives, at PO Box 11, Kerens WV 26276, 304-636-2662, rogers@wvhighlands.org. Contact us regarding the following eastern sections:

Bismarck to Forman (Greenland Gap section) 9.5 miles

Record of Decision issued in July 2001. WVDOH says it plans to start acquiring right of way in June 2003, let contracts in August 2004, start construction September 2004, completion in Sept. 2006. Greenland Gap activists led by Debbie Kunkel, after documenting the Gap's civil war history and natural features, persuaded the highway deparment to move the alignment a quarter mile away from the gap, reducing noise and air pollution there and sparing several houses in the village of Greenland. A mile-long access road was also eliminated between Greenland and Route 93, and the exit will be two miles north of Scherr onto Route 93, instead of at Greenland. The revived Grant County Historical Society has helped obtain grants to restore an old school house at Scherr. For more information contact Kunkelatgap@mountain.net

Forman to Moorefield 16 miles

Record of Decision issued in July 2001. Final design was done in September 2002, right of way acquisition began July 2002. WVDOH has begun to let bids out for contract and began consctruction summer 2003. They plan to complete it in late 2006. Citizens in this area are protesting Corridor H's bisecting of several farms and are pushing WVDOH to follow along the old Forman Road instead.

Moorefield to Baker 14 miles

The segment was opened to traffic in October 2003.

Baker to Wardensville - 7 miles, under construction, completion early 2005

CorrHangThe unnatural lights atop Sandy Ridge, west of Wardensville, Hardy County, W.Va. glare into the next county. Contractors hired by the State Highway Department, with our tax dollars, are working on Corridor H, the section from Baker to Wardensville. Huge bulldozers prowl day and night, even in the dead of winter, to satisfy the cravings of politicians and poultry bigwigs and large trucking firms. They have torn apart once-majestic cliffs and forests and once-peaceful farms along Route 55 by the Lost River, in order to impose their straightened, sterile four lane road on the landscape. The view from Hanging Rock pictured to left will forever be marred by this monstrosity.

Neighbors say the crews have broken a lot of drill bits on the unyielding quartzite. Tourists stare at the tower of bare earth above what used to be Lost River Sinks, the suburban-looking access turn at Sauerkraut Road, and the torn-up hill opposite Hanging Rock, and think they are seeing mountaintop removal coal mining. All this for a road far from existing towns and cities, in an area with little traffic. Cost: over $15 million a mile. Another sacrifice to the great god of Petroleum Consumption.

The earth carnage will stop, at least for several years, in a nonsensical spot just west of Wardensville where the Section 4, Baker-to-Wardensville, ends, and the Wardensville-to-Virginia line, Section 3, begins. Virginia has so far refused to build its 14 mile section which would go to Interstate 81; it's not on the state's six-year plan. If West Virginia's money holds out, it will finish the 21 miles from Moorefield to Wardensville. The highwaymen have set their sights on building west from Moorefield next.

Here is what we've learned from the WV Division of Highways status reports, and from citizens active in each of the sections:

Wardensville to VA line - 5.5 miles

WVDOH estimates the Record of Decision will be issued this year, but final design, right of way acquisition and construction are undetermined. Construction will be deferred for up to 20 years, in accordance with the agreement signed with Corridor H Alternatives in February 2000. A rise in traffic could trigger earlier construction, so Stewards are monitoring this issue.

In that February 2000 agreement, Wardensville was promised $1 million for capital improvements to compensate for damage from Corridor H to the town's economy. A citizens planning committee met in 2002, and had joint sessions with WVDOH, using a facilitator sponsored by Canaan Valley Institute, to determine how the town should best spend the money for sidewalks, trails, drainage and spot beautification. However, the town in a letter raised serious questions about Corridor H impacts, such as access roads to downtown; the impact on the spring that supplies town water; and impact on the town park. They want this to be part of the planning process, and WVDOH wants to put these issues off til final design.Click here to see scans of the letters back and forth between the Town of Wardenville and the West Virginia Department of Highways.

Virginia line to I-81, 14 miles

Virginia's Commonwealth Transportation Board, as a result of citizen protest and opposition by Rep. Frank Wolf, voted in 1994 not to build this section. West Virginia's strategy is to complete its 100 miles and dump the traffic onto two-lane Route 55 at the state line, forcing the building of four lanes to connect with I-81 That's why Virginians should stay aware...and support any opposition to Corridor H in West Virginia and in Congress!

These links will provide more information about this project and the efforts to stop it.

Corridor H Alternatives pioneered the fight against Corridor H and is primarily concerned with the West (Elkins) end.

The Cacapon Institute has pictures and information on the impact of the construction on the Lost and Cacapon Rivers.

The West Virginia Division of Highways presents their version of reality. Since your tax dollars paid for this site you may as well see what they have to say.