Local lawmakers question funding for Coalfields Expressway


There is a tension between southwest Virginia lawmakers and the Virginia Department of Transportation over a project proposed for economic development. The Coalfields Expressway has been proposed for decades to bring a four-lane highway through southwest Virginia and connecting to adjoining states. Now, legislators say there is a chance to move forward with the project, but can not get the needed approvals.

"We're upset because we've been lied to," Delegate Todd Pillion said.

State legislators have been trying to improve and advance transportation in southwest Virginia for years. The Coalfields Expressway would bring a modern four-lane highway to connect Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise Counties to West Virginia and Kentucky.

Senator Ben Chafin said, "We're talking about thousands of jobs. We're talking about opening up counties that don't have a single foot of four lane right now." Congress approved funding for the project in 1995. Now, with estimated costs now in the billions, progress has slowed.

Pillion said, "It's such a large project. It's very expensive to do, and we have to have federal infrastructure funds to come down and match those with state funds." Local lawmakers say they do not feel like VDOT is following through on promises to seek funding, including those available in a federal infrastructure bill.

"we have to make sure VDOT applies for those funds, and we want to make sure southwest Virginia is not left out," Delegate Terry Kilgore said. News 5 obtained a letter sent from Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Lane to State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Carrico. In the letter, Layne says the Commonwealth has supported the expressway by including $460 million in funding in a six-year improvement program adopted in June. Carrico told us he is looking into the letter and plans to respond.

Applications for the federal infrastructure funding are due by November 2. Secretary Layne wrote in the letter that the state has not decided if they will submit the project for consideration.

For the entire letter from Secretary Layne, click here.