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Gov. Justice celebrates addition to King Coal Highway, touts alliance with Trump

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice was in Mercer County Wednesday for the official groundbreaking ceremony for the next phase of the King Coal Highway project in the Bluefield area.

During his remarks, the governor said resumption of work on the highway, after several years, was an example of the success of his Roads to Prosperity program, and told the audience he has the full support of President Donald Trump, with whom he recently spoke about the status of highway construction in West Virginia.

“Why do you think (President Trump) is here all the time? I mean, somebody needs to open their eyes and just think about it. He’s here because of his buddy,” said Justice, referring to himself. “He’s here because I have convinced him, without a doubt, just how good West Virginia is. Now, naturally he wants to help West Virginia but, for crying out loud, how many electoral votes do we have? Just a sprinkle.”

Justice went on to say West Virginia residents, ultimately, would be the beneficiaries of the governor’s personal friendship with the president.

“President Trump’s going to win West Virginia (in the 2020 general election), no matter if he never shows up, again. And, he could go on like a politician and give us a bunch of lip service and everything, but he’s here because of his buddy, and his buddy is on him, all the time,” he said. “Ten days ago, he sent a delegation to me and said ‘I’m going to sign an executive order,’ and that order has — we’ve got to be able to use coal, continue on using coal. There’s way more stuff. We’ve got to absolutely look into (exploring) this natural gas hub. We’ve got to have petrochemical manufacturing in West Virginia.”

Justice added he discussed long-term infrastructure projects in West Virginia with a White House deputy administrator on Tuesday, the same day President Trump publicly stated his support for a $2 trillion national infrastructure program.

The governor was joined at Wednesday’s event by Department of Transportation Secretary Byrd White, acting Commissioner of Highways Jimmy Wriston and other WVDOT officials.

The ceremony was held near what has become known by local residents as the “bridge to nowhere” near Mercer Mall. The bridge and other sections of the John Nash Boulevard Connector were originally built more than a decade ago, before construction was halted due to a time limit on federal funding. Completion of the King Coal Highway was one of the initial projects Gov. Justice added to the Roads to Prosperity program, shortly after the statewide highway construction proposal was unveiled to the public.

The roadwork will add to the existing John Nash Boulevard Connector with U.S. Route 52 , and will connect the boulevard to Airport Road, allowing easier access to the Mercer County Airport. Additionally, northbound motorists will be to drive to Brushfork, Bluewell, Bramwell and into McDowell County without going through Bluefield.

“This project has sat here, unfinished, for about ten years and nobody had done anything until Governor Justice got here,” Secretary White said during his remarks at the event. “The governor has figured out a way to do it and has directed us to get it done.”

The $57.5 million construction project, which is being funded through West Virginia Turnpike Authority bonds, will include work cutting through a mountain between the bridge and the airport, requiring the displacement of 6.1 million cubic yards of earth.

The estimated completion date of the King Coal Highway is November 2021.