MASON COUNTY, W.Va. — A member of the Mason County Commission tells MetroNews he’s newly optimistic about expansion plans for Route 35 after talking with state officials this week.

“We are closer now….than we’ve ever been before and it puts a smile on my face,” Rick Handley said of plans to widen a 14.6 mile stretch of Route 35.

It’s a road that has seen a list of deadly accidents over the years. Just this week, a Missouri truck driver was cited for driving too fast on it following a wreck that involved two tractor trailers, including his truck, and a school bus. Nine students were treated for injuries.

“It is pretty bad and the bad part of it is you go from a four-lane and you’re going 70 miles per hour and then you go down to a two-lane which you’re supposed to go 55 miles per hour,” Handley said. “It’s the only 14.6 miles of two-lane road between Michigan and Florida.”

He is among the many officials and residents who have been sounding the alarms about the dangers of Route 35 for years. The problem, up to now, has been finding funding for four-lane construction.

On Tuesday, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced the start what could be West Virginia’s first public-private partnership (PPP) for a highway project — 3.3 miles of the Coalfields Expressway in southern West Virginia that will eventually connect the existing highway that begins at Interstate 64/Interstate 77 in Beckley to Mullens.

The state plans to advertise soon for private partners on the project with work tentatively set to begin in the spring.

DOH officials have said what is happening with the Coalfields Expressway could serve as a model for Route 35 and other future road projects.

On Wednesday, DOH officials said the agency had almost completed the right of way, or property buying, process for Route 35 while work to update environmental documents continues.

Early indications are three contracts will be needed for the expansion — two grade and drain contracts to build the road bed at an estimated $80 million each and one paving project at an estimated $50 million. Five bridges will also have to built for that stretch of highway.

The first of the grade and drain contracts could be put out for bid as soon as this fall, but because the details have not yet been finalized, the best case scenario, according to what Handley said the DOH has told him, would see the completion of the four-lane in Mason County within the next four years.

Handley said he’s grateful there’s at least some kind of plan for the long-delayed project. “I’m really, really higher than a kite about this project now,” Handley said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The Legislature approved changes to the Public-Private Transportation Facilities Act last year which cleared the way for more such private partnerships to build roads in West Virginia now that state and federal funds are running short.

With a PPP, in general, the state would partner with private companies for upfront funding and then pay off road projects in established installments.

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  • Craig from Mink Shoals

    This road should have been built 40 years ago!!!

  • richard

    4 Years??? I wonder how many people will die on that road in the next 4 years? Whose hands will that blood be on? Isn't this Mr. Handley one of the commissioners who voted to OK the tolls and then went back and changed that vote against the tolls, thanks in part to Del. Butler who opposed the 4 lane being built? Not sure about the facts surrounding the vote of this commissioner. I'm asking.

    • Mason County Contrarian

      Correct on all counts, richard.

      Nothing, essentially, has changed. This is all pre-election posturing. Mason Countians have heard this song before. Once the ire has calmed following this latest accident, there will have been no movement.

      The "Butler" did it.

  • Aaron

    "Early indications are three contracts will be needed for the expansion — two grade and drain contracts to build the road bed at an estimated $80 million each and one paving project at an estimated $50 million. Five bridges will also have to built for that stretch of highway."

    That's a total of $290 million not counting the cost of bridges which will be another $50 million so taxpayers are on the hook for $350 million to complete the project. Given that the project was awarded in October, 2010 for &187,228,000.00 and that number adjusted for inflation would put the cost at $204,320,000.00,

    I would question whether a private/public partnership is in taxpayers best interest. It seems to me that by allowing this type of financing, the state is removing the competitive bidding process in current lettings.

    Instead of paying finance charges to a construction company that adds $150,000,000.00 million to the project, wouldn't taxpayers be better off if the state sold bonds and paid them with the profits that would otherwise be diverted to Jeff Kessler's future fund?

    • The bookman

      I don't follow the math. Think there is an extra $80 M flowing around in there. Either way, at least the project is moving forward, and with only 5 bridges in 14 miles, the construction should have reasonable comps per mile upon completion to see if costs are competitive.

      • richard

        Maybe the extra $80 mil is built into the project for moneys to be skimmed off the top for crooked politicians and their families.

      • Aaron

        Road, not bridge in the first sentence. And for simplicity's sake, in my calculations of total construction cost I estimated $10 million per bridge. That could easily be a fraction of the cost depending on the concrete yardage needed for the bridges.

        The point is these partnerships while moving projects along are (as I said) extremely costly.

      • Aaron

        The bridge let in October 2010 for 175 million. They're talking construction of at least 340 million. Inflation increases the 175 to close to 200 million. I rounded up construction to 350 to get $150 million difference.

        With competitive bidding the pricing would be closer to 200 million, maybe 225. I understand it's moving forward but it is doing so at an extremely high cost.

  • Dumb Liberals

    The dreams of m0r0n supporters.

  • ViennaGuy

    Good news for Mason County! Long overdue, too.

  • Mason County Contrarian

    Hmmmm....November just around the corner......Election Day coming up......campaigns in full swing...calling in political favors...political signs popping up like Johnson grass.....another accident on Rt. 35....rampant optimism......

    Yep, Election Day must be coming to West Virginia.

    Where are the bottles of bourbon?

    • richard

      Funny. I'm sure the talk will die down after the election and everyone forgets about the bus accident.

      • Mason County Contrarian

        Local hacks are counting on that, richard.

  • wvumounties8

    How nice it would be to get Rt. 35, Corridor H and the Coalfield Expressway completed within my lifetime (I am 50yo). My son and I traveled over Corridor H back in July and with the exception of 12 miles from North of Elkins to Parsons, 15 miles from Parsons to Thomas, 16 miles from Thomas to the new 4 lanes at Mt Storm (And the construction is moving right along the 16 miles between Mt Storm and Thomas) and from Wardensville to Strausburg Va, the 4 lane highway is done and is absolutely beautiful. Some of the bridges and scenery is the BEST IN WV.. If the State of Virginia would get off its big butt and start coming from I-81 to the Va line, it wouldn't take hardly any time at all to connect the 4 lane (that ends just outside of Wardensville) to the WV State line. So, in reality, Rt 219 from north of Elkins to Parson to Thomas and Wardensville to WV LINE is all that remains for WV. And I've heard that Va has finally woke up and is seriously considering running a 4 lane highway from Strausburg, Va off I-81 to the Va/WV line to meet up Corridor H. Once that is done, it will cut close to an hour off the trip from Charleston to DC. So if you are going to be traveling from Southern WV to DC Metro area, use Corridor H, it would be well worth your time and effort as well as scenery. I was working for Nationwide Insurance in 96' when Harold Michael got the funding started for this road and was there when the first cuts were made on a farm outside of Moorefield. I was astounded on how much they had done in the 18 years since the construction began.

    • Wirerowe

      According to the website The portion from Thomas to Bismark will be open to traffic next year. A 4 mile section from Kerns to US Route 219 will start construction in a year or so. The schedule for the hardest portion from Parsons to Thomas needs to be speeded up. Our highway priorities need to be finishing Corridor H for economic development and 35 for safety.