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Agreement on finishing Corridor H a milestone in state history

If both sides can claim victory in the long battle over whether to complete construction of Corridor H in West Virginia, that is just fine with us. The most important thing to come out of a Monday ceremony in the reception room of Governor Cecil Underwood was the announcement that work on the remaining 100 miles of the highway -- from Elkins east to the Virginia line -- will very likely resume soon.

The announcement was made following an agreement between highway officials and environmentalists. Governor Underwood stated at the ceremony, attended by about 100 people, that the settlement moves the state "past litigation and into construction and on toward completion.

"An overwhelming majority of citizens and elected leaders in the region and our state supports the completion of Corridor H as a four-lane highway, including every decision-maker within my administration and me."

We see it as a "red letter day" in the economic development of the Mountain State. A completed Corridor H, it was originally proposed, would link the I-79 in Lewis County with the I-81 near Strasburg, Va. Currently, the road is finished between the I-79 to Aggregates, just west of Elkins. And there is a 3.5-mile bypass around Elkins that is already under construction.

The cost of the unfinished portion of road is estimated at $1.3 billion, with a "b."

However, even though state officials are regarding the settlement as a move toward completion, it breaks most of the final 100 miles into nine individual projects that range from 5.5 miles to 16.5 miles. This is where the environmentalists are calling it their victory. Pam Moe-Merritt, a spokeswoman for Corridor H Alternatives, has made it clear that "each section will have to justify its own funding. As a single project, Corridor H is dead."

We will not quibble over whether it is one project or nine -- just so the road gets built.

The Monday agreement requires the state Department of Transportation to study new alignments in order to avoid historical sites near Parsons and Thomas, which are both in Tucker County. The preservation of these historic sites was of special importance, according to Corridor H Alternatives President Hugh Rogers, who indicated that essentially, they will need to start over in those areas.

One factor that heartened us is that Monday's agreement will allow the DOH to immediately resume working on the corridor, beginning with a 5.5-mile section linking Elkins and Kerens. And if work could get under way this year on a 21-mile segment between Wardensville and Moorefield, that will be especially satisfying.

All that remains is for the agreement to receive the approval of U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan two weeks from today in Washington. Then we will have reached a long-awaited milestone in the modern history of West Virginia.

Robert F. Stealey

Telegram Editorial Board chairman

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