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Conflict in the Mountains: The Story of Corridor H in West Virginia

Corridor H (US 48) was legislatively created as part of the 1965 Appalachian Regional Development Act.  This route which was designated to run east from Weston via Elkins to Strasburg, Virginia has been West Virginia's most controversial route of the six Appalachian Highway Development System routes that run within the state's borders.  The emotional conflict that has led to numerous legal and political struggles has placed the environment, desire for economic and social progress, and the Eastern West Virginia way of life at odds with each other for nearly four decades.
 
Early History:
The story of Corridor H begins in the 1930s.  Benton McKay, who orchestrated the creation of the Appalachian Trail, suggested a network of highways and parkways throughout Appalachia. (1)  That proposal would become a key part of the 1965 Appalachian Regional Development Act.  The Act included the creation of the Appalachian Development Highway System (AHDS).  The highway system consisted of "...a 13-state regional highway system that called for the establishment of 23 corridors, each of which would contain a highway that would permit anticipated traffic to proceed in safety between major termini at an average speed of 50 miles per hour, commensurate with the terrain." (2) The corridors were established to connect the remote areas of Appalachia to the Interstate Highway system and link communities within the region.  The corridors would slowly remove Appalachia from its isolation from the economic and cultural centers of the East Coast and Midwest. 
 
Corridor H would be one of six (D, E, G, H, L, and Q) AHDS routes planned for and ultimately built in West Virginia.  Most of these routes were improvements tied to existing US highways, either through building new alignments or improving the current road.  Corridor E would be built entirely to freeway standards and become I-68 in 1991.  The remaining corridors have become key links within West Virginia's highway system.

Construction of Corridor H would start slowly.  By 1974, widening projects were beginning on US 33 immediately east of I-79 near Weston.  The only sign of significant construction of the highway was a six mile stretch of highway being built on a new alignment east of Elkins.  (see map at right)  The roadway from Canfield to Shavers Fork was opened in the mid-1970s.

Problems Begin:
The original proposed routing of Corridor H had the improved highway following US 33 from I-79 east to Elkins then continue east via US 33 to Seneca Rocks.  From that point east, there were two proposals: one was a new terrain route over the Shenandoah Mountains to New Market, Virginia. (3)  The other had Corridor H going north from Seneca Rocks to Moorefield and then east roughly following Route 55 to Strasburg. (1)

 
However, the new highways never saw the light of day.  Environmental groups quickly voiced concerns and protested the route east of Shavers Fork.  In 1981, WV began the process of studies and hearings on an Environmental Impact Statement for the highway east of Shavers Fork.  Any progress from the studies and hearings stalled as funding issues would cause the state would shelve the project until 1990. (4)
 
Meanwhile, the state would begin in 1982 twelve years of constructing nearly 40 miles of Corridor H from I-79 east to just west of the city of Elkins.  This project was an improvement of US 33 and included a bypass of Buckhannon.

The 1990s: The Conflict Comes to a Head
The 90's would see a re-energized West Virginia in pushing forward the completion of Corridor H.  Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) would be named chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 1990 and he would soon begin issuing federal highway dollars to his state.  WVDOT would begin a two part study as well.  The two part study included a Corridor Selection Draft Environmental Impact Statement (CSDEIS).  The five alternative study was released in 1992. (2)  In 1994, WVDOH completed their Alignment Selection Draft Environmental Impact Statement (ASDEIS).  The study would release a new corridor for 'H'.  This corridor had the highway running northeast from Elkins to Parsons, east from Parsons to Davis, then a northern arc route via Bismark and Scherr to Moorefield, then running east to Virginia in the shadows of current WV 55. (see map below).  The four-lane portion of highway directly east of Elkins and part of the original Corridor H would not be part of the new route.  It is know locally known as the "racetrack".

1995 WVDOT Map showing the new northern route of Corridor H.

It would be the decision of the Northern Route that would begin a legal battle between the state and various opposition groups.  The battle would continue to intensify between 1994 and 1996.  During that time period, a citizen's group named 'Corridor H Alternatives' (CHA) was formed.  The grass-roots group which favors other alternatives to the new highway would become the most vocal and active of those against the highway.  The group would receive unexpected support from the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1995.  The Commonwealth would announce that they did not have any current interest in completing Corridor H from the State Line to Strasburg.  Their position would be a large contrast to that of former WV Governor Cecil Underwood, who would state that his administration's goal was to "...move aggressively toward construction of every segment of Corridor H as we have been financially and legally permitted to do so." (5)
 
The state would release their Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in April 1996 and the Federal Highway Administration would announce a Record of Decision (ROD) approving the 100 mile route four months later.  In November, CHA would file suit in federal district court against the FHWA's ROD in addition to WVDOH.  CHA would allege that the state did not study improving existing routes, but rather push for the new highway.  They also would allege that WVDOT ignored impacts on two historical sites the Corricks Ford and Mooresville Civil War Battlefields.  The claim states that FHWA was in violation of Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. They argued that  "...[the] FHWA violated DOTA Section 4(f) by failing to identify all the historic sites it was charged with protecting prior to its decision approving the route of the proposed highway, and by erroneously concluding that the highway would not "use" two of the sites it did identify [section 106]..." (6)
 
The U.S. District Court would side in favor of the FHWA and WVDOH in October of 1997; however, CHA would immediately file an appeal. (4)  CHA would be joined throughout the legal dispute by 14 other plaintiff's and six friends of the court. (1)  The co-plaintiffs and friends of the court would include environmental groups, local citizen's groups, and also national taxpayer watchdog organizations.  CHA would file a second lawsuit in 1998 on the same grounds in regards to two other properties.  The second lawsuit would be dismissed in march of 1999.
 
The battle over Corridor H would continue to intensify in 1998 up to the calming of compromise in 1999.  In November 1998, a federal court ordered the WVDOH to halt all work on Corridor H except for a 3.5 mile segment of the North Elkins Bypass. (4) The beginning of calmer days came with a US District Court of Appeals decision on February 9, 1999.  The decision agreed that the two agencies did consider all alternatives, including improving existing routes, throughout the EIS processes.  

However, it reversed the original decision of the FHWA not being in violation of Section 106 of the  NHPA and of Section 4(f) of the DOTA.  The decision would allow the CHA to file new lawsuits on future projects based on any possible violations of Section 106 and Section 4(f). (4)  The state would be allowed to complete the North Elkins Bypass and continue all studies for the rest of the highway.

The true compromise came in December 1999 as a result of the US District Court Mediation program.  The compromise broke the original ROD on the 100 mile route into nine segments.  ROD's would be issued for each segment.  The CHA would in turn "...waive the right to bring future lawsuits seeking further study of any alternative that does not include completing Corridor H as a continuous four-lane highway." (4)

Stimulus Funding vs. Wasteful Spending:
 

During the first six months of  the Barrack Obama administration, funding for Corridor H saw a boost and then a pull back.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 awarded West Virginia $215 million for highway construction.  In February of 2009, Gov. Joe Manchin announced that $21 million would go to Corridor H projects in Grant and Tucker counties. (7)  However, two months later, the $21 million for Corridor H was transferred to a bridge project in Weirton.  The main reasons were that Senator Robert Byrd had earmarked $9.5 million for Corridor H for 2009-2010; and the state had already committed between $13-15 million of their own to the project. (8)
 
That all changed in May when the President announced his budget proposal.  The White House's budget eliminated Byrd's $9.5 million earmark as part of $17 billion worth of budget cuts. (9)  Byrd along with fellow Senator, Jay Rockefeller, and other West Virginia Congressmen vowed to put the $9.5 million earmark back into the budget. 
 
Meanwhile, the West Virginia legislature began looking into whether or not they could move the stimulus money back to Corridor H.  But prior, there was some doubt that the Corridor H projects in the stimulus package were in fact "shovel ready". (10) Regardless, Corridor H backers and West Virginia officials have stated this is only a minor hurdle in the continued construction of the highway.

US 220 Improvements (North-South Corridor):
 
As a result of Corridor H nearing completion to Moorefield and the route's push westward towards Elkins, local leaders and residents looked at improving US 220, a two lane north-south highway connection Moorefield to Cumberland.  Called the North-South Corridor, the hope is for a modern four lane highway connecting Corridor H in Moorefield to Interstate 68 in Cumberland.   Although years away from any construction, the West Virginia Department of Transportation initiated a Tier I Environmental Impact Study in November 2005.  The preliminary study is expected to take 18 months and be completed by mid-2007.  The study is spread over four states (Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) and looks at four potential routes: (11)
  1. Across Dans Mountain and Green Mountain
  2. Existing US 220 through Keyser and the New Creek Valley
  3. Existing WV 28 out of Wiley Ford and Knobley Road
  4. Through the Patterson Creek Valley
The study is sponsored by all four states, and funding was initiated by Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes, who secured $10.8 million for the highway in July 2005. (12)  At the time, right-of-way acquisition and construction could have begun by 2010. (13)  However, since then, the possible construction start date was pushed back to 2012. (14)
 
After a series of meetings in 2007, the possible routes were whittled to three. Option 1) Took the road along US 220 from Cumberland to WV 93 in Scherr and would connect with Corridor H there. Option 2) Runs the highway along Knobley Mountain. Option 3) Follows US 220 to Keyser and then heads south to Moorefield.  (15) 

In May of 2006, the WVDOH held three public information hearings on the possible alternatives on the North-South Corridor.  In 2014, a Tier 1 Final EIS and Tier 1 Record of Decision was approved for the North-South Corridor allowing Tier 2 studies to begin; however, there is no schedule for Tier 2 studies at this time.

Where Corridor H is Today:

As agreed upon, the nine segments would be re-evaluated on an individual case basis and construction on some segments would begin in earnest in 2000.  One of the first segments of Corridor H to be opened was the North Elkins Bypass in August 2002.  More openings would take place in 2003 as 14 miles of highway from Baker to Moorefield opened. (See map at right) Construction was recently completed on a segment east of Baker and WV 259 to Wardensville for seven miles of the highway.  This segment opened on October 20, 2006. 
 
Westwards from Moorefield, a three mile piece of the 15 mile Moorefield to Forman segment opened to traffic in November 2005. (4)  This extended the highway west to end at US 220 just north of Moorefield.  The remaining 12 miles of this section opened to traffic on October 27, 2010.  This extended the highway to an interchange Patterson Creek Road (County Route 5). 
 
US 48 West approaching Moorefield. (Doug Kerr)
The 14.5 mile Forman to Bismark section was opened in three different stages.  First, a 3.5 mile segment of highway from US 220 westwards to Knobley Road was opened in 2010.  By the end of 2012, another 5.3 miles connected the highway to WV 93.  This segment included a 0.6 mile connector route to WV 93. (18)  And in November 2013, the remaining four miles to WV 42 and 93 in Bismark were opened.  

Corridor H would then continue to push west towards Davis.  Much of this route paralleled or used the existing WV 93 alignment from Mount Storm Lake westwards.  Around Memorial Day in 2015, the highway was extended to the Grant/Tucker County Line.  This segment includes an interchange with WV 93 that provides access to the Mt. Davis Power Plant. Much of the route from this point to Davis did use WV 93's former alignment.  The entire 16.2 mile segment to Davis from Bismark opened in November 2016.

The final 22.5 miles have the most hurdles to clear.  The 22.5 miles are broken into two segments, Davis to Parsons (9 miles, and Kerens (the end of the North Elkins Bypass) to Parsons (13.5 miles).  The Davis to Parsons section is home to the environmentally sensitive Blackwater Canyon region.  The state had hoped for a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (SFEIS) and Record of Decision in late 2001 but that had been pushed back to 2003 then to the fall of 2005. (4,16)  The state had expected an approval Record of Decision (ROD) announced in October 2008. (17)  This section - with the exception of Wardensville to the WV/VA line - is expected to be built last.  As of this article's last update, construction is not scheduled to begin on this segment until 2031.
 
The Parson to Kerens segment received a ROD in 2003; however, after a few changes to the route an approved revaluation of the ROD was given in November 2015. (17) That same month the state awarded its first P3 (Public-Private Partnership) bid to Kokosing for the first 7.5 miles of the Parsons to Kerens segment.  This will stretch the four lane highway north from its current terminus in Kerens to a connector to US 219 near Montrose.  The expected completion date for this segment is 2019. (22)  The remaining eight miles will be broken into two additional segments.  The middle segment consisting of 3.4 miles to WV 72 near Parsons, and the remaining 4.6 miles to US 219 north of Parsons. (22) There is no current opening date for the remaining sections.
 
Finally, the furthest east segment, Wardensville to the Virginia state line, is in the most limbo.  Construction of this segment was deferred 20 years as a result of a February 2000 agreement with CHA. (16) This segment though can begin construction sooner if traffic warrants.  Currently, the state expects to begin construction of the final eastern most miles of Corridor H in 2027. However, there is still not a commitment from Virginia to continue the highway eastwards to Interstate 81.  Another aspect of the February 2000 agreement was West Virginia agreeing to pay Wardensville $1 million in capital improvements as a result of potential damage to the town's economy from construction Corridor H. (16). 

A Complete Route:

As each new segment of Corridor H opens, US 48 signs creep further west towards its ultimate terminus at Interstate 79 in Weston.  Since West Virginia received approval to sign US 48 from AASHTO in 2003, the state's practice has been to place US 48 shields on each newly completed segment of highway.  However in August of 2016 in a letter to Delegate Gary Howell, WVDOH stated that they would sign US 48 all the way to Interstate 79 in Weston including along unfinished segments along US 219, WV 93, and WV 32.  However, it would not be until February of 2017 that US 48 shields would begin to appear in the Weston area.

Traveling westwards from the Virginia State Line, Corridor H and US 48 in a very scenic journey that is through some of the most isolated areas of the East Coast.  Wardensville is the current eastern terminus of the four lane highway as the new road begins just west of town.  It is in Wardenville that Corridor H's impact on the local economy has been seen.  Residents from Washington, DC and Northern Virginia have begun to settle or look for vacation homes in the area or find the town as a stopping point on their way to the ski resorts further west. (xx)  The Lost River Trading Post and Lost River Brewing Company are two examples of new businesses that have come to Wardensville as a result of H.

US 48 continues west to an interchange with WV 29 and 259 in Baker.  If you head south on WV 259 towards Virginia at this point, 259 is a very scenic drive along the Lost River.  The next stop along Corridor H is Moorefield.  Moorefield is your best location for various services such as gas and food.  Much of Corridor H until US 219 in Parsons and later Elkins is very desolate.  In fact, cell phone service can be extremely limited along Corridor H - not only because of the terrain - but because much of the highway lies within the boundary of the National Radio Quiet Zone.  

West of Moorefield, Corridor H is a sweeping roller coaster ride up and down mountain ridges as it climbs the Allegheny Mountains towards Greenland Gap.  A number of scenic views are located along the highway for you to stop, stretch, and take in the views.  As Corridor H begins to enter the Allegheny Highlands - and elevations close to and over 3,000 feet - you will notice the giant wind mills that have grown to populate the area for clean energy.

Corridor H will pass Mount Storm Lake and the massive power plant to the north as it makes its way along the highlands to the four lane's current end just east of Davis.  At this point, Corridor H follows WV 93 to an intersection with WV 32 in Davis.  Signage for US 48 was not present in January of 2017 but most likely should be in place by the spring of 2017.  At the intersection with 32, a left turn and a jog north on WV 32 will take you to US 219 and Thomas where US 48 will share an alignment with US 219 South towards Elkins.  

Blackwater Falls State Park is only a few miles south of Corridor H in Davis. 

However, a left turn on WV 32 South leads to a number of recreation and tourism opportunities that many from DC and Northern Virginia are using Corridor H to get to.  Timberline and Canaan Valley Ski Resorts are a few miles south of Davis as is Blackwater Falls State Park.  The park is one of West Virginia's most popular and if camping isn't your thing.  The park hosts an onsite lodge.

Returning onto Corridor H and US 48, in Thomas the temporary routing of US 48 will follow US 219 South through the towns of Parsons and Montrose before returning to a four lane expressway in Kerens.  There are more services - gas, food and lodging - as Corridor H continues west and bypasses the towns of Elkins and Buckhannon.  Corridor H finishes its length scenic and sometimes controversial journey at Interstate 79 in Weston 

Site Navigation:
Sources & Links:  

  • (1) Corridor H Alternatives. "History of Corridor H." http://www.users.cloud9.net/~kenner/cha/CHhistory.html (May 7, 2005)
  • (2) Corridor Alternatives v. Slater, Rodney. No. 97-5301. U.S. DC District Court of Appeals. February 9, 1999.
  • (3) Cook, SP. "Re: Corridor H Roadtrip." Post to misc.transport.road. August 4, 2003.
  • (4) West Virginia Department of Transportation. "Corridor H Timeline." http://www.wvcorridorh.com/route/timeline.html (May 7, 2005)
  • (5) Murdock, T. Micheal. "Gov. Underwood Dedicates New Section Of Corridor H." Huntingtonnews.net. Jan. 6, 2001
  • (6) Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. "Case 152." http://www.achp.gov/book/case152.html (May 7, 2005)
  • (7) "Manchin releases roads slated for stimulus funds." Associated Press. West Virginia Public Broadcasting. February 24, 2009.
  • (8) Higgins, Carla. "Sen. Barnes: Redirect ARRA funds to Corridor." The Inter-Mountain. May 12, 2009.
  • (9) "Obama's budget eliminates Corridor H funds." WVVA-TV. May 8, 2009.
  • (10) Howell, Gary. "Corridor H Will Not Recieve Stimulus Funds." Potomac Highlands Conservative. April 9, 2009.
  • (11)"Preliminary study approved for proposed north-south highway." WVAY-TV. (November 22, 2005)
  • (12) Office of Senator Paul S. Sarbanes. "Sarbanes and Mikulski Announce Approval of Highway Projects for Western Maryland." July 28, 2005.
  • (13) West Virginia Department of Transportation. "US 220...connecting Corridor H and I-68." (February 26, 2006)
  • (14) Ridder, Mona. "N-S Mineral route still in running." Cumberland Times-News. May 09, 2007.
  • (15) Ridder, Mona. "US 50 group may join push for north, south connector." Cumberland Times-News.  May 18, 2007.
  • (16) Stewards of the Potomac Highlands. "Corridor H." http://www.potomacstewards.org/corridorh (May 28, 2005)
  • (17) West Virginia Department of Transportation. "Corridor H Route." http://www.wvcorridorh.com/route/route.html (January 11, 2009)
  • (18) Carpenter, Bobbie. "Construction on Corridor H in full swing." Mineral Daily News-Tribune. July 25, 2008.
  • (19) Powell, Brian. "Corridor H and WV 43." Post to misc.transport.road. May 21, 2004.
  • (20) West Virginia Office of the Governor. "Governor Announces Completion of Another Section of Corridor H." (October 23, 2010).
  • (21) Wickline, John.  "Corridor H discussions scheduled for next week." The Inter-Mountain. September 9, 2010.
  •  (22) "Corridor H Authority Encouraged by Bids." WBOY-TV. (October 30, 2015).
  •  (23) Imbrogno, Douglas. "Lost River Trading Post offers eclectic experience." The Washington Times.  May 3, 2015.
  • C. Patrick Zillacus
  • Brian Powell
  • Appalachian Regional Commission
  • West Virginia Corridor H --- WV Division of Highways
  • Corridor H Alternatives
  • Stewards of the Potomac Highlands
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