Lawmakers hear need to widen W.Va. 2

Several leaders in West Virginia gathered Monday to tout new jobs and seek to widen state Route 2.
Published: May. 8, 2023 at 7:29 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia lawmakers took over Marshall University’s Memorial Student Center for a second day Monday. The three-day interim session is a chance for legislators to receive updates and consider potential legislation for next year.

Economic development along state Route 2 took center stage before the Joint Committee on Finance.

John Musgrave, director of the Mason County Development Authority, told lawmakers the Nucor plant is approaching a $3 billion investment with plans for more than 1,000 jobs in Mason County.

But Musgrave said that’s just the beginning. He told lawmakers talks are underway with two other major employers to bring even more jobs to Mason County, with one employer considering an investment that is as big or greater than Nucor.

“I can’t talk too much about them because of an agreement that I’ve signed, but I can tell you both of them have optioned property,” he told the committee.

Just north into Jackson County, Berkshire Hathaway is redeveloping an aluminum plant, and to the south a Huntington area development group told lawmakers that an existing manufacturer is looking to expand with 40 new jobs.

But with growth comes challenges, chief among them the need for a wider state Route 2.

“If I have to have one ask, we do need to have Route 2 expansion,” Cabell County Commission President Kelli Sobonya told lawmakers.

“You’ve heard about Route 2,” Musgrave followed. “It’s a terrible, terrible road. You’ll see some of it, I think when you get up. It’s pretty good in Cabell County, but once you get into Mason County, it’s pretty bad. But we need your help.”

Monday’s meeting taking place at Marshall University, less than 5 miles from state Route 2. Lawmakers in town to get a first-hand look at successes and needs in this part of the state.

House Finance Chairman Vernon Criss, R-Wood, says the region is booming, but says expanding Route 2 will not be automatic.

“How close are we, do you think, to having that critical mass to demand Route 2 expanded?” WSAZ NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson asked.

“Well, we’ll have to see,” Criss replied. “We’ll have to see on the traffic count. We’ll have to see upon the demand for the type of roads that we need to build. Not necessarily do we need to build a complete, four-lane superhighway, interstate-standard, type of road, but maybe an industrial type road.”

Another need is more housing.

Musgrave says Nucor is already working with a private partner to build 300 temporary units for its workers.

Sobonya, who doubles as a real estate agent as well, says the lack of housing inventory extends south and demands attention.

“We can open up all of the factories and industries that we want, but unless you have housing to meet those needs, it’s going to be difficult for recruitment,” Sobonya said.

“If we looked at it and did our planning, and looked at future development and what we could create, within this region working together as you heard there today, this would be a powerhouse in the state of West Virginia,” Musgrave told lawmakers. “We have in this room the wherewithal to make that happen. We need your help.”

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams also briefed the committee. He touted several projects underway in his city.

Lawmakers will tour businesses Tuesday along state Route 2 on the final day of their visit to Huntington.

Later in the day, Marshall President Brad Smith met with lawmakers for lunch. He discussed the university’s place in the future of economic development and health care.