Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller Encouraged by Meeting on I-68

Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller participates in a recent commission meeting. He recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials about expanding Interstate 68 to Marshall County. File Photo

MOUNDSVILLE — Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller described a recent trip to Washington, D.C. as “one of the better meetings,” as he met with government liaison Billy Kirkland last fall regarding his ongoing interest in the Interstate 68 project, which would create a highway system between Marshall County and Morgantown.

Miller said he had met with Kirkland, who serves as special assistant to the president and deputy director of White House Intergovernmental Affairs, and who serves to oversees contacts between the departments of transportation, energy and commerce. The meeting allowed Miller to get in contact with federal representatives, which he said was an unexpected surprise, as he said it was uncommon for county officials to be put in touch with people on the federal level.

Miller said he used the contacts to arrange a proposed piece of legislation which would call on businesses to allocate portions of their budgets to the I-68 project. Miller framed the legislation as a means of an upfront investment to reduce long-term travel expenses on the oil and natural gas companies seeking future development in the area.

“In the legislation I’m trying to get through, it explains what it is and how we could use it as a funding tool,” Miller said. “And two other things, one was trying to get some of these big companies to try to do a business model with them, instead of the plea the government usually has, ‘Be a good neighbor, donate to this road.’

“It’s like, ‘How much would this road save you in building a billion-dollar plant, if it was in place when you built your next plant?'”

Miller recalled a dinner meeting several years ago, during which one business leader had said they could have saved 20 percent of their costs if a road was already in place.

“That means $200 million they could save, not have to find financing, to not have to build a new plant.”

The end result of these talks, Miller said, is to gain federal support for this project in negotiations with businesses, which may help swing the talks in the county’s favor.

“The CEOs of international, multi-million-dollar companies wouldn’t be too excited about talking to a Marshall County commissioner, but if we could get the White House behind us at some level of negotiations, that power might be able to help these things happen,” Miller said. “It’s just a matter of perception, for some of these guys to go to the country club and brag about making a deal with the president, versus getting excited about a deal with Bob Miller.”

Miller was joined by three others in related fields — Ed Bernardes, West Virginia University professor of supply chain management; Joe Eddy, president of Eagle Manufacturing; and Bryce Custer, a real estate adviser for NAI Spring.

Custer, with experience identifying the needs of businesses and the logistics involved, said the I-68 project would open the Upper Ohio Valley to new options by drawing from the Morgantown area.

“You’ve got a great asset in West Virginia University. You’ve got the huge talent pool in the Morgantown area, and it opens up the whole Northern Panhandle for not only industrial development, but in retail and housing development as well,” Custer said. “But the real emphasis is being able to bring product back and forth. In the Northern Panhandle, there’s just no good way to get to Morgantown, one of the most popular parts of central West Virginia, and this is one of the solutions,” Custer said.

Miller said he was hopeful for the future of the project, as he sees the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shortening the process to consider new transportation routes under Director Scott Pruitt.

“They’re trying to streamline a lot of the approval process when it comes to things like building a highway,” Miller added.

Miller added that West Virginia Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, and Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, had been advocates of the project and had been guiding Miller’s legislation forward in Charleston. Miller hopes the legislation will be approved sometime this year, as he said Clements had been in talks with other representatives to see the bill advanced through the Legislature.

“Definitely in the next two weeks, we need to get this passed,” Miller said. “We got this through Senate Finance this week. … The support this year, which we didn’t have in the past, will move it through the house this year. (Clements) was optimistic we’ll still have time to do it. I’m hoping with his optimism, we’re going to be able to pull this through down there (Charleston).”