Manchin, Capito question Chao about transportation concerns

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., questioned Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Wednesday about multiple matters, including service on the New River Train and installing broadband fiber during road construction projects.

Chao appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies in regards to the Department of Transportation’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Manchin first spoke about restoring the New River Train service; Amtrak announced last month it was ending special service and charter trains, putting the 51-year tradition in jeopardy. The New River Train runs from Hinton to Huntington during the yearly Hinton Railroad Days Festival.

Manchin said business and organizations depend on the four-day event for revenue.

“In some of this situation in rural America, in rural West Virginia, this is a lifeblood for some of these people,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday evening they have received a commitment the event will be held this fall.

“Amtrak recognizes the importance and more than half-century tradition of the New River Train and the Hinton Railroad Days. Amtrak is willing to make some limited exemptions to its ban on charter trains, and after our call, I feel confident we will be granted this exemption,” Jenkins said.

Manchin also asked Chao about planning and funding for Corridor H, which runs from central West Virginia to northern Virginia but also includes 20 miles of uncompleted road. According to Manchin, it will cost around $330 million to complete the roadway.

“The state’s willing to put up $90 million to do that, which is 26 percent of the costs,” he said. “We’ve got some priorities that we need to take care of, but we can’t finish what’s been going on for almost 60 years now. It’s just ridiculous.”

Capito opted to not repeat Manchin’s points — acknowledging she shared similar concerns — but said West Virginia is committed to fixing its transportation issues, pointing to the Roads to Prosperity bond voters approved in October. She said West Virginia is more than willing to pay what is appropriate to get projects completed.

“We all have our challenges, but they say, ‘My state can’t afford it.’ My response is if West Virginia can pull this off and get it together like we did, then I think your states really need to look to step up,” she said.

She also asked Chao about the “dig once” rule, in which crews lay internet fiber during road construction projects.

“It’s only common sense,” Chao responded. “I think we all agree with it. It’s just how do we coordinate amongst all these different agencies to make that happen.”

Capito encouraged Chao to reach out to other agencies and federal departments about streamlining the process for installing fiber cables.

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