Push for I-68 Expansion in Marshall County Continuing

Bob Miller admits West Virginia’s secondary roads need immediate attention, but state officials still should move quickly to capitalize on opportunities and contacts made through the Trump administration if the expansion of I-68 to Marshall County is to happen in the future.

A meeting with West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch to discuss the value of the I-68 expansion has been set up by State Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, and is scheduled to take place June 1 in Fairmont, according to Miller, who serves as executive director at West Virginia Route 2 and Interstate 68 Authority. Among those also slated to participate are Greg Kozera, director of sales and marketing for Shale Crescent USA, and Bryce Custer, broker with NAI Ohio River Corridor.

Miller called Kozera “an asset” because of the data he brings with him to meetings. Custer operates a global real estate company.

“We are going to go over what is happening in the region, how important (an I-68 expansion) is to West Virginia’s economic future,” Miller said.

As the natural gas and shale industries expand in the region, Miller explained it is becoming increasingly important that infrastructure is in place to allow for the transportation of the product, as well as what would be produced by ancillary businesses sprouting up from the natural gas industry.

A goal of the WV 2 and I-68 Authority is to build a “lattice work” of roadways to get traffic to where the industry is, he said.

“I’ve heard if we would take coal and steel industries and combine them, that would pale in comparison to the potential of the shale industry,” Miller said.

Gaunch isn’t just focused on highways ending at the West Virginia border, he said. Gaunch recently toured the Shell Cracker Plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania to see its potential.

“We just have to get the southern part of state to realize the potential we have in this part of the state,” Miller said. “We have to educate them that the shale industry goes beyond just drilling holes in the ground, and a few people there maintaining them.

“We need crackers. These bring lifetime manufacturing jobs, and bring the need for storage hubs and infrastructure like I-68.”

The group hopes to encourage Gaunch to work with the state of Ohio to coordinate a plan to bring I-68 to Marshall County, then across the river to Belmont County where another cracker plant has been proposed. The highway then would meet with Ohio 7, and then eventually hook up with I-77.

Miller said the state isn’t focusing enough on “building tomorrow,” and is losing the potential for federal funding of the I-68.

In Dec. 2017, Miller met in Washington with then-Trump Administration aide Billy Kirkland, who expressed in the idea of expanding I-68. Since that time, he has been promoted to special assistant to Vice President Mike Pence.

Other contacts who have been receptive to the project also have been promoted or moved on, according to Miller.

“If we want the industry to come, we have to have that infrastructure,” he said.

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