Infrastructure

After Nearly Three Decades And $3 Billion Olmsted Locks And Dam Open On Ohio

Aug 31, 2018
Becca Schimmel / Ohio Valley ReSource

After nearly 30 years of construction and a budget that rose into the billions, Olmsted Locks and Dam passed the first tow barge through its system at a ceremony Thursday on the Ohio River.

The $3 billion infrastructure improvement by the Army Corps of Engineers is the most expensive inland waterway project in U.S. history and is touted as the hub of the nation’s river navigation system.

This is the first of a two-part series on water infrastructure in Appalachia, and possible solutions to problems at the federal and local level.

Courtesy Bureau of Prisons

The Bureau of Prisons has issued a record of decision signaling that it is moving ahead with plans to build a federal prison on the site of a former strip mine in the hills of Letcher County, Kentucky. But local opponents of the prison say they’re not giving up and are considering a legal challenge to prevent the construction of a new prison.

Retired truck driver Bill Needham poses at his home in Asheboro, N.C., Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017.
Gerry Broom / Associated Press

Truck driver Bill Needham braced for death at the bottom of the Ohio River after a bridge collapse 50 years ago in West Virginia sent his rig and dozens of other vehicles into the frigid waters.

A crucial joint in the 39-year-old Silver Bridge’s eyebar suspension system snapped from years of corrosion and neglect, and the normal vibrations of heavy rush-hour traffic on U.S. Route 35 shook it apart on Dec. 15, 1967. Cars and trucks that had been stuck in traffic on the bridge due to a malfunctioning traffic light tumbled into the river at Point Pleasant, and 46 people perished.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a stop on his Save our State tour Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017 on the Coalfields Expressway.
WVDOT

State officials are urging West Virginians to get out and vote during Saturday’s special election.

West Virginia voters are being asked to approve the sale of $1.6 billion in general obligation bonds. The bonds are part of Governor Jim Justice’s roads infrastructure spending plan.

Harpers Ferry, Bolivar
Mark Frickett / Wikimedia Commons

The small town of Harpers Ferry in the Eastern Panhandle is often referred to as a gateway into West Virginia. It was a prominent place during the American Civil War, and it was the site of John Brown’s Raid.

Pixabay

More than two million people across the Ohio Valley live in areas that lack any option for fast and reliable internet service. This week some of them had a chance to tell a member of the Federal Communications Commission what that means for their work, studies, and everyday life.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Gov. Jim Justice has signed legislation allowing the West Virginia Parkways Authority to increase the tolls on the state turnpike and create a new single fee program in the name of a bond to fund new road projects in southern West Virginia.

The bill is part of his roads package, a set of bills and bond initiatives that will boost revenue for road maintenance and construction and in turn, according to the governor, create jobs.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, the Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier brings us the story of a Pennsylvania metallurgical coal mine slated to reopen soon.

We'll also hear from the Ohio Valley ReSource about how some infrastructure experts fear the President Trump's new infrastructure plan for new projects might not hold water.

Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

With a speech planned for Cincinnati’s Ohio River waterfront, President Donald Trump has chosen a fitting venue to talk about infrastructure improvements. The Ohio Valley is home to aging highways, bridges, and dams, poor drinking water systems, and weak internet service for many rural residents.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, the Ohio Valley ReSource takes a look at the state of broadband internet  access in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. We'll find out about how it's affecting commerce and economic development in central Appalachia.

We'll also hear about some grassroots and legislative efforts aimed at expanding broadband access to areas underserved by commercial communications companies.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Charleston area has lost construction jobs at the second-fastest rate in the nation according to a survey from the Associated General Contractors of America.

A representative of the national group presented the results of the survey of 358 metro areas at the Capitol Wednesday, accompanied by West Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Smith.

Wikimedia commons / Brandon W. Holmes

The Wheeling City Council is considering an ordinance that would establish a three-story minimum building height for new structures in the downtown district.

City council members heard the first reading of the ordinance during a meeting Tuesday. Officials say the requirement would only apply to new buildings and doesn't address the 10-story maximum height restriction.

Defunding Appalachia: Coal Communities Resist President’s Budget Cuts

Mar 24, 2017
Rebecca Kiger / Ohio Valley ReSource

Danny Ferguson didn’t like what he saw happening in Lincoln County, West Virginia, where he grew up. The downturn in the coal industry had hit hard, and young people had few job options beyond some fast food places.

“We don’t have nothing else for them to be employed,” Ferguson said. “Lincoln County is in bad shape and Coalfield seemed like the only one willing to take a chance in that area.”

The Republican majority in the Senate is starting to reveal its plan to restructure the state’s tax code. A bill introduced in that chamber Thursday would repeal the state’s income and corporate net income taxes and replace them with a higher consumer sales tax and fewer exemptions.

Gov. Jim Justice has already released his proposal to balance the state budget on tax increases and a small amount of cuts.

Minority Leaders Tim Miley and Roman Prezioso discuss the budget proposals their party will support.

Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography

A national research group says the deficiencies, congestion, and lack of safety features on West Virginia’s roadways are costing drivers in the state more than a billion dollars every year.

Gov. Jim Justice plans to drastically change that by increasing the funding to the state’s road system, but members of the Senate have mixed feelings about whether that plan can succeed.

Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia’s historic rehabilitation tax credit was put in place to encourage developers and property owners to take some of the state’s crumbling, historic structures and get them back into working order. The credit is also supposed to encourage the creation of local jobs while repurposing the underutilized buildings.

But the state’s tax credit is 10 percent, and a coalition of architects, economic developers, and others say that’s not enough to encourage the community development they’d like to see. That same group is now traveling the state looking for support as they prepare to ask state lawmakers to increase the tax credit.

West Virginia Turnpike
Seicer / wikimedia Commons

Members of the West Virginia Parkways Authority are supporting the continuation of tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, doubling down on a resolution to that effect passed in January.

The tolls are set to expire in May of 2019, when the bonds on the road’s construction will be paid off.

In a legislative interim meeting this week in Charleston lawmakers questioned officials from the state Department of Transportation and the Division of Highways about everything from current practices to choices in legal representation. 

The hearing came in response to ongoing lawsuits - one where federal charges have been filed against state Division of Highways employees in an alleged bribery scheme, and another involving an alleged monopoly that's inflating asphalt prices in the state.

A recent breakdown at an Ohio River dam served as a wake-up call about the aging infrastructure that keeps river commerce flowing. The Ohio is one of the country’s busiest working rivers and some navigation controls are approaching the century mark. I went to see these ailing structures and a new multi-billion dollar project in the works.

Critical Stretch of River

Photo courtesy of Office of the Governor

Another 8 mile section of Corridor H is officially open for traffic today after a ribbon cutting ceremony in Tucker County.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin was joined by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox and others as they cut the blue ribbon stretched across the roadway. 

Clay County
David Benbennick / Wikimedia Commons

Clay County residents are speaking out against the closure of a bridge damaged during the June floods.

People rallied Sunday at the Camp Creek Bridge, voicing their displeasure about the closure.

Last month, the state Division of Highways announced that the 91-year-old bridge would be shut down to vehicle traffic, but remain open for foot traffic.

U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate will vote this week on a $9 billion water bill that West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito defended on the chamber floor Tuesday.

The Water Resources Development Bill is expected to pass with almost no opposition from the Republican controlled chamber.

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Two legislative interim committees received updates Sunday on the state of West Virginia’s recovery since June’s flooding.

Infrastructure came first during a meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Department of Transportation Accountability.

DOT Secretary Paul Mattox told lawmakers the state’s highways, roads and bridges suffered $55.5 million dollars in damage. That damage was largely focused in three counties- Clay, Kanawha and Greenbrier- and Mattox said significant progress has been made in repairs in those areas.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

FEMA-- the Federal Emergency Management Agency-- is well known for its individual housing assistance program- a federal program that helps homeowners and renters who have lost their housing and belongings in natural disasters, but the agency has another program that helps states and local governments rebuild.

Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broacasting

The floods that ravaged West Virginia in June wiped out hundreds of private bridges - bridges that provide direct access to homes. And over 300 bridges were wiped out from flooding last year, too. It usually falls to residents to rebuild.

West Virginia’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (WV VOAD) called on Mennonites to help by building wooden bridges designed to handle flooding.

Courtesy Amillio Blevins

Since Wednesday, a rockslide has covered a portion of Railroad Yard Road, blocking some residents in Iaeger from leaving their homes.

 

Updated Monday July 25th 3:30:

 

According to Iaeger Mayor Joe Ford, local coal operator, Eddie Asbury, is on the scene of the rockslide and is in the process of removing the debris.

 

Original Story:

 

McDowell County resident, Deedra Blevins, says she plans to climb boulders Saturday evening so she can bring supplies to her 70-year-old mother, Dorothy Frost, who is one of those trapped behind the slide.

Two contentious pieces of legislation--one repealing the prevailing wage and the other making West Virginia a Right-to-Work state --see votes on the Senate and House floors, respectively.

Both pass by slim majorities with some lawmakers even crossing party lines in the process.

The prevailing wage repeal heads to Governor Tomblin's desk, but Right-to-Work will return to the Senate after some amendments in the House.

islandjoe / creativecommons.org

The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved a committee substitute Friday to Senate Bill 16, a bill that would provide up to one million dollars in tax credits to any company delivering broadband service to certain hard-to-reach rural areas.


In light of the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, this week on Inside Appalachia we remember the West Virginia water crisis from 2014. We’ll also hear from people in the coalfields who don’t have access to clean water, day in and day out. And we’ll honor the traditional “Appalachian” way of coming together to lean on each other.

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