Recently, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives pushed through a bill that would cut and underfund a host of transportation and infrastructure investments that benefit our State – TIGER grants, Essential Air Service, and AMTRAK, as well as Community Development Block Grants, to name just a few.
I am all for cautious spending and eliminating waste in the Federal budget, but these programs are certainly not wasteful spending. Funding our roads and bridges and rail systems comprise wise investments. These are the types of basic investments that can create jobs and build our economy for the future. Cutting this type of funding is a bad idea, which is why I voted against the measure.
TIGER grants, for example, are helping to build the Prichard Intermodal facility in Wayne County. In 2011, with my support, the West Virginia Port Authority was awarded a $12 million TIGER grant to build the Heartland Intermodal Gateway, which will serve as a cargo-transfer station along the Norfolk Southern rail line, so that cargo can be moved from rail to roadway to the river, stimulating private investment in warehousing and distribution centers in the area.
Once completed, this facility would give industries in the Tri-State area more modern and efficient freight container service and enhanced access to international rail lines, which is why I have fought for funding to facilitate its construction – starting with the nearly $90 million I helped to secure for the Heartland Corridor, which expanded tunnel clearances to enable the transport of double-stacked international maritime and domestic containers along the Norfolk Southern line that runs through Mercer, McDowell, Mingo, and Wayne Counties, and including the $100 million in earmarks for the TOLSIA highway I helped to secure, some of which the West Virginia Department of Highways used to construct the Gragston Creek Bridge leading to the new facility.
Likewise, TIGER grants are helping to fund the development of the Coalfields Expressway in Wyoming County, from Mullens to West Helen, and can be used to fund the development of Route 35 in Mason County – two vital roadways that need to be completed and cannot afford to have Federal funding sources choked off.
Essential Air Service (EAS) is another example of programs targeted for cuts in the bill recently approved by the House. EAS bolsters our Raleigh County and Greenbrier Valley Airports in Beckley and Lewisburg, subsidizing commercial air service so that West Virginia travelers stay connected to major airline hubs in Atlanta and Washington.
Amtrak too was targeted for cuts. Amtrak runs the Cardinal line through our southern region, bolstering tourism and travel and drawing visitors to our historic coal and rail heritage areas in Huntington and the New River Gorge National River Area.
My senior position as the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee has enabled me to fight for and protect Essential Air Service investments, as well as the Amtrak Cardinal route, which is no easy task given the Republican Congress’ constant attacks on these investments that are so important to our State’s economy.
Community Development Block Grants, which help our larger cities like Huntington to finance economic renewal projects like developing parks and recreational facilities, were also targeted for cuts under the legislation passed by the House – something I adamantly oppose.
All of these budget cuts would harm our State and stall economic development projects aimed at creating jobs and economic opportunities so that our children and children’s children can reside and work close to home and their families.
It is incredibly important for our region that these investments in our economy continue and I intend to keep on using my experience and position in Congress to ensure that these vital investments are protected and fully funded.
(Editor’s note: U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District.)