Rockefeller recently struggled to preserve the Appalachian Regional Commission's highway programs after Republicans tried to remove some of those projects.
"Corridor H is one of the large factors in the future of West Virginia," he said. "It is now back in there."
Corridor H will connect Interstate 79 near Weston to Interstate 81 near Strasburg, Va. The four-lane highway will pass by several West Virginia towns, including Buckhannon, Parsons, Thomas, Davis and Moorefield.
Rockefeller recently criticized the coal industry for using what he called scare tactics against people who wanted to regulate it more thoroughly, by improving mine safety standards and cutting carbon emissions.
"The coal industry can do so well, but it has to keep carbon from being emitted," he said Friday. "Coal is the most plentiful energy source, but it has to be clean."
Rockefeller said that, despite some recent medical problems, health did not factor into his decision not to run in 2014.
"I have this stupid bum leg, which is annoying," he said, "but a few days ago, I had a physical in the Senate and came through with flying colors."
Rockefeller's wife, Sharon, who introduced him at Friday's event, said, "He is known for his humor and his wit. When he asked me to marry him, I didn't know whether he was serious or not," she said. "He said we could be married on April Fools Day . . . .
"We made West Virginia our home almost 50 years ago. West Virginia gave Jay the most crucial crossroad in his life, when he was 27 and working for VISTA" in Emmons.
With Rockefeller planning to retire in January 2015, Sharon said, "I really look forward to spending more time with him. We will be forever grateful to West Virginia."
Pat Maroney, a Charleston lawyer and former co-chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, told the senator, "Your eight years as governor were probably the best of our generation."
Maroney praised Rockefeller for pushing legislation that helped veterans and coal miners with health care, that improved mine-safety enforcement and helped seniors pay for Medicare benefits.
"Your most courageous and monumental act was when you stood shoulder to shoulder with the president in passing the Affordable Care Act," Maroney told Rockefeller. "You lifted this state upward and onward . . . .
"If John F. Kennedy were still alive, he would write a new chapter in 'Profiles in Courage' about you."
Tom Goodwin, chief aide to Rockefeller during his first term as governor and a Charleston lawyer today, said, "Senator Rockefeller changed everything. He literally devoted his entire adult life to the development of this state."
Rockefeller first came to West Virginia as a VISTA volunteer in 1964. He was elected to the state Legislature two years later, and was elected secretary of state two years after that.
He ran for governor and lost in 1972, then served four years as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College before running for governor again. That time he succeeded, and served eight years in office.
As his second term drew to an end, Rockefeller won a close race for a U.S. Senate seat against Morgantown businessman John Raese. That seat was left without an incumbent when Sen. Jennings Randolph retired. Rockefeller was never seriously threatened in any of his re-election campaigns since.
His current Senate term ends Jan. 3, 2015.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.