Submitted By: Susan Rosenblum
The Tucker County Chamber of Commerce Board met on Thursday, June 16, 2022 at the Highland Market Café in Davis. The planned guest of the meeting, Travis Long, Director Technical Support Division of the WV Division of Highways was invited to present on the planned route for the Corridor H section between Parsons and Davis. Long was unable to attend the meeting due to an incident on I-79. The planned route for Corridor H, as presented by the WVDOH at previous meetings on April 26 and 27 to the Thomas City Council and the Davis Town Council, was discussed by those in attendance at the Chamber meeting. The planned route would cross the North Fork of the Blackwater River at Coketon and connect with the completed section of Corridor H to the east with an interchange at Route 32, dividing the towns of Thomas and Davis. A second project presented by the WVDOH, which is not part of Corridor H, would be a proposed truck route that would bypass the town of Thomas from the north and connect with Route 32 south of Thomas. It is not certain that the funding for this truck route has been approved.
At the meeting on Thursday, members of the Chamber of Commerce Board were presented with three petitions against the Corridor H route that is currently preferred by the WVDOH. Rachelle and Jim Davis, of Douglas, WV, presented a petition with 812 signatures from residents in the Thomas, Douglas and Davis communities. Linda Reeves presented a petition signed by 17 Thomas business owners and Nancy Luscombe presented a petition signed by 24 business owners in Davis.
All residents and business owners who signed the petitions are in favor of an alternative northern route for Corridor H that would go north of Thomas and connect with the completed section of Corridor H east of Route 32. The northern route is an option that was designed and proposed as an alternative by the WVDOH in the past. Proponents of the northern route cite that it would eliminate the interchange of Corridor H with Route 32 and that it would alleviate the need for a separate truck route to be built around Thomas, because truck traffic from Route 219 would be connected directly with Corridor H above Thomas and flow around the city with Corridor H, thereby eliminating a major intersection of a separate truck route with Route 32.
Concerns raised by residents and businesses at the Chamber meeting, as well as at the April council meetings in Thomas and Davis, include safety concerns regarding a major interchange between Corridor H and Route 32 and the division that such an interchange would have on the growing flow of business, tourism and cohesiveness between the towns of Thomas and Davis. A northern alternative would allow visitors to exit Corridor H east of Route 32 and access both towns as they do now from Route 93. Concerns were also raised regarding businesses that would develop around the interchange, such as fast food restaurants and gas stations, which would compete with the locally owned businesses that already exist in Thomas and Davis, as well as diminish the natural beauty of the area which attracts visitors.
In addition, petitioners stated that they are opposed to a bridge crossing the North Fork of the Blackwater River at Coketon, because it will divide the communities of Douglas and Thomas, have adverse impacts on the Blackwater Industrial Complex (including coke ovens) which is eligible for the National Historic Registry, and negatively impact the biking and walking trails being developed between the towns of Thomas and Davis. These attractions have been in the process of being protected and developed over the past 20 years and bring many tourists and their business to the area for their historic interest and natural beauty.
Other concerns raised at this meeting, and the council meetings in April, relate to Blackwater Falls State Park, a major tourist destination in the area and state. These concerns include that traffic on the highway will be able to be seen and heard from points within the park and that vehicle lights from the highway and bridge, and interchange lighting will keep the park from receiving Dark Sky designation, which would draw many additional visitors to the area for astronomy viewing. Although the WVDOH indicated at the Davis and Thomas council meetings in April that they don’t think the highway will be able to be seen from Blackwater Falls State Park, they are not 100 percent certain and that lights at the interchange can be modified to point down, but cannot be eliminated.
David Esch, representing Alpine Heritage Preservation and Cottrill’s Opera House in Thomas, also spoke at the Tucker County Chamber of Commerce board meeting. He indicated that Cottrill’s Opera House is on the National Historic Register and therefore, any choices regarding the route of Corridor H that would have an adverse effect on the Opera House, or other parts of the historic Thomas area that are protected, would have to be mitigated by both the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office and the National Historic Registry. Of utmost concern to the Opera House board is that truck traffic no longer be permitted to go through the town of Thomas.
The Tucker County Chamber of Commerce board indicated that they will request that the WVDOH schedule a public meeting, since they and the public need more specific information from the WVDOH regarding the current proposed route and alternatives to the route, as well as answers to these and other concerns expressed by Chamber businesses and area residents.