The National Highway System of the United States comprises approximately 160,000 miles of roadway important to the nation's economy, defense, and mobility. One particular highway is Corridor H, part of the Appalachian Development Highway System. It is an east-west United States highway that runs 148 miles from northern Virginia to central West Virginia.
Much debate has risen over the impact that a four-lane highway might have on the local environment. Threats to wetlands, streams, rare, threatened and endangered species, forests and historical sites have led to numerous legal and political battles in West Virginia. The desire for economic and social progress has once again brought Corridor H to the forefront.
The construction of a highway has many risks to the environment. The increase of harmful air-borne sediment and silt affects air quality. The loss of vegetation along banks promotes soil erosion. The disruption of migration routes can lead to a decline in local wildlife population. Also, the natural, recreational and historic attractions found in eastern West Virginia would be marred by the construction of a major highway.
The West Virginia Department of Highways, along with environmental scientists and stream biologists, seek to construct an environmentally sensitive highway. Protection and improvement of the approximately 750 acres of wetlands and streams affected by the proposed Corridor H route has been a main issue. In order to protect these wetlands and streams, scientists designed and contracted two large multifaceted wetlands within the Monongahela River watershed and the Potomac River watershed. Over three thousand feet of streams were in danger of being enclosed, therefore the construction of four additional bridges and four open bottom culverts were needed.
The need for erosion control has presented a special challenge for Corridor H. Projects like this expose a huge amount of acreage to erosion. Whether cutting, filling or shaping the margins, these sites are in a constant state of change. This activity is particularly dynamic when you build in mountainous terrain. Black silt-fences and hay bales are little more than band-aids on a gaping wound for a site as large as a four-lane highway. The solution is sediment ponds. The surface is shaped so that water will flow to the edge, then into a low spot, called the berm, where it travels down a pipe slope drain into the pond.
The presence of federally protected animals and plants also required attention. The Running Buffalo Clover, Indiana Bat, Virginia Big-Eared Bat, Cheat Mountain Salamander, and the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel all reside in the path of Corridor H. Working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, engineers developed the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel Section 7 Endangered Species Act Initiation Package. The proposal included habitat maps, giving increased understanding of the endangered species and also quantified the impact on the squirrels from construction.
The reasons for the construction of Corridor H are purely economical. With its completion, this highway would promote more travel and tourism to eastern West Virginia. Industry would also benefit. The large trucks required by the timber, limestone and poultry industry would be able to better travel through the rough terrain of the Appalachian Mountains. The question is at what cost to the environment. Being from West Virginia, I am aware of the strong relationship between residents and their surroundings. I am also aware of the economic black hole that is also present. Many alternatives have been proposed, including improving of current roads. I believe that this approach is not the solution for the current economic situation. Corridor H has taken the necessary precautions and is being built to minimize its environmental impact.
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