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Coalfield Expressway Authority Gets Operations



July 2, 2024 - A new budget year means more money for the Coalfield Expressway Authority to seek more money for the 30-year highway project.

CFX Authority Executive Director Jonathan Belcher said Friday that the authority is preparing three approaches to find money for the project. All but four miles of the easternmost corridor in Buchanan County, Virginia are either four-laned or will be four-lane highway by 2028, he said, and the remaining.

Four miles of the Buchanan County corridor still need funding, Belcher said. He credited Virginia U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner with starting work on earmarks to include the approximately $7 million of federal money needed to complete four-laning to the Kentucky state line.

The focus on the Expressway’s easternmost Virginia third came from Kentucky and West Virginia’s own Coalfields Expressway progress, Belcher said.

“West Virginia has completed much of its Expressway corridor,” said Belcher. “It made sense to connect the Virginia side with West Virginia so the Expressway didn’t just stop at the state line.”

When the final four miles of the Buchanan County project are completed, that will connect with 15 miles of Kentucky work for a four-lane highway from Grundy to Pikeville, Kentucky, Belcher added.

Grant Writing

To date, Belcher said, getting federal funds for each step of the Expressway project has meant a 20% match of state or local money. Buchanan County has committed $1.75 million in local funds to match the $7 million federal budget request.

The CFX authority will see $500,000 split across the next two Virginia budget years starting in September, Belcher said. Those funds will go toward writing specialized grant requests for funding beyond the federal sources used in recent years for Expressway construction.

“This is the first time the Authority has been funded since it started in 2017,” said Belcher, “and we intend to be good stewards of that money.”

Appalachian Regional Commission

The Authority board, during its Thursday meeting in Wise, voted to send a letter to the Appalachian Regional Commission to place the entire 35-mile Expressway corridor on ARC’s Appalachian Development Highway System.

While the completed Buchanan County Expressway sections are now included in the ADHS, Belcher said expanding the amount of Expressway mileage in ARC’s system can expand eligibility for ARC construction funds.

State Funding

“Right now, though, we need to get more state matching funding for those federal funds,” Belcher said. “The money we need from the state is greater than what we can get from the current VDOT funding structure.”

The Virginia side of the Expressway has received $15.995 million in federal highway funding since fiscal year 2022, but Belcher said progress depends on larger, sustained federal allocations.

CFX Authority members and staff will be meeting with the Southwest Virginia state legislative delegation to find ways beyond the 2024-2026 budget biennium to get matching funds to expand Expressway construction.

“Expressway progress depends on our ability to get federal funding,” Belcher said, “and we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to get more funding.”