HINTON, W.Va. -- After 27 years on the drawing board, officials broke ground on the New River Parkway on Wednesday.
Triton Construction of Nitro is scheduled to begin excavation work on a 1.3-mile section of the two-lane scenic highway before fall, and complete the $11.32 million project by May 2013. The first segment of the parkway will stretch from W.Va. 20, just across the New River from downtown Hinton, and extend northward along the river, following the path of River Road.
Design work is underway on a second segment of the parkway, which would add another 5.2 miles of highway to the northern end of the first segment. That segment will cost an estimated $22 million.
A third 3.5-mile segment, yet to be designed, would connect the first two segments to Interstate 64 near Sandstone, and would involve building a bridge across the New River between Sandstone Falls and the Sandstone community.
The New River Parkway Authority hopes to eventually extend the parkway from I-64 southward to Hinton, past Bluestone and Pipestem state parks, and into Mercer County, where it would connect with the West Virginia Turnpike near Princeton. The Sandstone-Hinton section involves about 10 miles of new roadway.
At Wednesday's groundbreaking, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor, called for the entire parkway to be built. He said it would provide "a scenic yet safe traveling experience" for tourists and area residents alike.
Tomblin added that the project may be "the oldest unspent earmark project ever," having received its first construction funding back in 1987 through a $17.6 authorization secured by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.
"Nick, you get us that federal money now, and we'll build it right away," Tomblin said, turning to face Rahall on the speakers' dais.
During his turn at the podium, Rahall said getting the money to continue the project "will take a lot of tough work in today's economic environment. ...But investing in the future is what infrastructure projects are all about," particularly when a project "is part of a broad plan for economic development and has grassroots support."
Rahall said "in the eyes of some, our parkway and the National Park Service facilities throughout the Gorge area for which I also helped obtain funding, are the products of wasteful spending. They like to call these kinds of federal investments 'pork.' They imply that these monies are fat, or waste, and they are trying to cut off every cent of this type of investment."