The Raleigh County Memorial Airport is singled out for a $1.04 million outlay in the omnibus appropriations bill for an access road at an industrial park and a connector to Interstate 64, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., announced Monday.

The money is intended to finance a road that reconnects the airport to I-64 and to complete an access road looping through the Raleigh County Airport Industrial Park, the 3rd District congressman said.

More than 1,800 people are employed at the park by 40 businesses, and the federal money is needed to provide road improvements to address a number of safety concerns.

Additionally, the federal dollars will be invested in enhancing access that has been hindered by a two-lane road, built 57 years ago. For now, that is the only ingress to the park, Rahall pointed out.

“I am pleased to have successfully inserted over $1 million in the bill for important improvements at the Raleigh County Airport,” Rahall said.

Tom Cochran, airport manager, said the access road will serve two extremely important functions — providing greater public safety and improving accessibility and infrastructure. The latter is especially critical in economic development.

Both the airport and several major employers on Industrial Park Drive — like Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Beckley — have only one way in and out of the area, Cochran noted. When accidents and bad weather shut down Airport Road, people are stuck.

“The main thing is the safety issue,” he said. “This will compliment our workforce, helping them get to and from their jobs.”

Infrastructure must be in place before economic development can happen, Cochran said. Several hundred acres at the industrial park will now be accessible, and the better interstate access make the park even more attractive.

“Infrastructure — like roads, sewer systems — is a tool,” he said. “If it’s not in place, you can’t get development.”

Another $3.4 million was placed in the omnibus measure so the West Virginia Sheriffs Association can get high-definition digital, full-color aerial images and software tools.

The intent is to help local, regional, state and federal law enforcement and first-responders meet the challenges posed by West Virginia’s mountains, considered some of the more rugged mountains east of the Mississippi River.

Rahall also announced a $665,000 budget outlay for the Appalachia Service Project to repair and rebuild homes of needy families. Money was acquired by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, also D-W.Va., with Rahall’s backing.

“True credit belongs to Sen. Byrd,” the congressman said.

Levels of funding for domestic projects in West Virginia wouldn’t have been achieved without Byrd’s “strong and vigorous leadership” on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Rahall said.

The omnibus appropriations package is now in the hands of the Senate.

Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

April 6, 2009