Proposed West Virginia Highway Under Fire
By Brooks Jackson/CNN
WASHINGTON (April 1) -- As the House takes up a huge transportation bill Wednesday, nobody knows how to steer federal money back home like West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd. But some wonder whether a billion dollar West Virginia road project is really a matter of pork or poultry.
Highway 55 in West Virginia is a bottleneck, a death trap according to the people who live there.
"Monthly you hear of some kind of wreck, a truck, a any just personal motor vehicles wrecking on these mountains. It's horrible," said David Nesbit, a restaurant owner in Moorefield.
Debbie Seabright, a local teacher, said, "If you have to travel these roads every day, like I do, they're treacherous, they really are."
And the local mail carrier, Nora Richard, agrees. "We have lots of little children around here. My main thing is to get the big trucks off our little roads, get 'em out of our little town. They need their own road," she said.
Now a new road may be coming. A four-lane highway stretching 110 miles, costing $1 billion. Eighty percent of the funds would come from Washington.
"It's just a piece of pork," says anti-highway activist Bonnie McKeown. "We don't need it. We need to fix the roads we have."
Environmentalists charge the proposed highway, dubbed corridor H, would gouge its way through two national forests and across 41 streams.
But Harold Michael, a full-time insurance man and part-time state delegate, says a new road will bring new business and new jobs.
"We have a good labor market. We have all those things to offer. Low taxes. We just need a way to get people in and out," Michael said.
The local poultry industry generates hundreds of millions of dollars. A four-lane highway would help their drivers and their profits.
"If it were built, the poultry industry will benefit. There's no doubt about it. It's definitely going to cut down on transportation time to and from the plant," said Tom Widder of Hester Industries.
Never mind the billion-dollar cost. Never mind that critics say only two or three thousand vehicles a day will use it. People around here want a new, four-lane road and Washington is feeling generous.