September 18, 2022 - While the term earmarks isn’t used anymore, two Virginia lawmakers are still seeking a congressionally directed funding request of $7 million for the Coalfields Expressway project in Southwest Virginia.
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., and U.S. Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., have included the federal funding request in a Fiscal Year 2023 spending bill that is now being drafted in the U.S. Senate. The spending bill also includes a $617,000 funding request for the town of Tazewell to build a new fire station and $188,000 for the Theater Guild of Buchanan County for the purchase of indoor and outdoor equipment.
Such funding requests from individual lawmakers were once known as earmarks, but are now called congressionally directed spending requests.
Despite their inclusion in the draft fiscal year 2023 spending bill, there is no guarantee that the local funding requests will remain intact once the bill is finalized.
Still their inclusion is an important first step in securing federal dollars for the local projects, particularly the Coalfields Expressway.
The latest text of the federal spending bill was recently unveiled by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The next step for the legislation is a markup and advancement by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is expected later this year, followed by Senate floor consideration, according to Kaine and Warner.
So it could be a while before we see a final version of the spending bill.
While the states of Virginia and West Virginia have supported the Coalfields Expressway project, federal funding for the four-lane corridor has been difficult to come by in recent years — this despite the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year.
So any federal funds that are earmarked toward the project — in both Virginia and West Virginia — are certainly welcomed.
Warner and Kaine’s request would allocate $7 million for the design and construction stages of a project to widen a 2.21 mile section of U.S. 121/U.S. 460 — also known as the Coalfields Expressway — to a four-lane highway in order to better promote economic development in Buchanan County, Va.
In Virginia, the Coalfields Expressway will extend through Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties.
In neighboring West Virginia, construction will be getting underway soon on a section of the Coalfields Expressway in McDowell County, which will link the four-lane corridor with Wyoming and Raleigh counties. That work near the city of Welch is being completed with state funding.
With hope the federal earmark designation from Kaine and Warner will remain intact in the final version of the 2023 fiscal-year spending bill. That would provide a much-needed boost toward the development of the Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia.