WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will join members of the Wayne County Economic Development Board, Norfolk Southern Railway representatives, and state and local officials on Wednesday for a tour and update on the development of the Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard.
“Intermodal cargo is a hot commodity and it’s growing jobs. This is a prime time to take stock of the progress on construction at Prichard and chart out a comprehensive marketing strategy that will lead to solid opportunities and broad benefits,” said Rahall, top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I have worked to make the federal government a full federal partner in this jobs generator since the Rahall Transportation Institute first identified intermodal cargo opportunities for our region. I stand ready to help build on what we have achieved to ensure this region captures its full share of modern day transport opportunities.”
With Rahall’s support, the Heartland Intermodal Gateway Facility at Prichard received a $12 million federal grant through the Fiscal Year 2011 National Infrastructure Investments, or “TIGER III,” Discretionary Grants Program for construction.
“Governor Tomblin has helped move this project along on the State side and I believe this update will be beneficial to both of us as we strive to seize every opportunity the Heartland facility offers our State,” Rahall said. “I look forward to continuing to work with our Governor to bring the vast potential of this facility to reality.”
Tomblin helped to move the facility’s development ahead through his completion of an operations agreement with Norfolk Southern. The West Virginia Port Authority owns the Heartland Intermodal Gateway facility and has worked in concert with federal agencies, Norfolk Southern and local officials to develop the intermodal cargo operation.
“The Heartland Intermodal Gateway Facility will play a vital role in helping our state successfully compete for upcoming economic development projects,” Tomblin said. “The investments supported by Congressman Rahall and our state Department of Transportation have the potential to open a number of freight corridors and port destinations from Virginia to Chicago and will help our state strengthen its presence in both the trucking and rail shipment industries.”
The Rahall Transportation Institute’s (RTI) long-running work with the Prichard project has been multifaceted. Most recently, RTI has been identifying opportunities to improve the economic competiveness of regional shippers, better enabling them to tap into the lucrative international freight markets.
“Transportation research clearly points to the economic benefits that can be achieved by integrating various modes of transportation, like highway and rail, as seamlessly as possible. The Rahall Transportation Institute has worked to make the Heartland Intermodal Gateway a model of welding our region’s economy to the global marketplace more seamlessly and efficiently. It is truly building jobs through transportation,” said state Sen. Robert H. Plymale, who authored state legislation to provide a funding source for projects like the Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard.
The Wayne County Economic Development Authority is helping to coordinate potential business development related to the Prichard facility with the aim of accruing the fullest possible economic benefit for the area.
“The Heartland Intermodal Gateway is a portal for commerce that holds job opportunities for the entire Tri-State region. Wayne County’s partnership with all levels of government and Norfolk Southern will serve as a job catalyst, developing additional business and industry within our transportation hub that Congressman Rahall, Governor Tomblin and so many have worked so hard to build,” said West Virginia Delegate Don Perdue, executive director of the Wayne County Economic Development Authority.
At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Rahall and Tomblin will participate in a project update meeting provided by the Wayne County Economic Development Authority, West Virginia Public Port Authority, West Virginia Development Office, and the Rahall Transportation Institute in the conference room of Allevard Sogefi USA in Prichard followed by a site tour.
HUNTINGTON -- The Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard in Wayne County is expected to be completed in December 2015 and have a major economic impact on the Tri-State area and West Virginia, visiting business leaders were told Monday.
State Sen. Bob Plymale joined more than 30 economic development officials from around the Mountain State to view construction of the intermodal facility during a breakout tour during the West Virginia Economic Development Council's annual conference on Monday. Plymale, who has been a strong advocate for the facility for more than a decade, said the facility is nearly 50 percent complete.
While the Huntington area has many economic development sites to showcase to visiting business leaders, Plymale said the intermodal facility will be the only one of its kind in West Virginia, which makes it an obvious destination.
"If you're going to compete globally, you've got to have the ability to ship containers because that's what most things are shipped by," Plymale said. "Most industries are going to that containerization, and this facility will allow you free access to the Port of Norfolk and to the Midwest and West Coast. It gives you the opportunity ship to anywhere in the nation, and in the world."
Plymale said the intermodal facility would be advantageous for any company within a 75- to 100-mile radius, which includes businesses from Ohio and Kentucky. He said he recently spoke with Kentucky House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, who called the facility a "game changer."
The Prichard site is a perfect location for such a facility, said Dan Motley, industrial development manager for Norfolk Southern Corporation. He said studies indicated the location, sitting along the company's Heartland Corridor rail line, the Big Sandy River, U.S. 52 and near Tri-State Airport, was a logical fit in the company's Heartland Corridor project.
"This sits right along our line that has (Norfolk, Virginia,) on one end and Columbus, Ohio, on the other," Motley said. "We already owned part of the site here, which helped, too."
Both Motley and Plymale said one of the key impacts the intermodal facility will have is it will provide a level of shipping production totally unavailable to businesses is the area. Plymale said he expects the facility will be appealing to businesses seeking to startup or relocate, and bringing those businesses to Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard is good not only for the immediate area, but also for all of West Virginia.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall are scheduled to provide an update on the intermodal facility Wednesday at Allevard Sogefi USA in Prichard.
The WVEDC annual conference also included tours to Heritage Farm and Museum and Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing. The three tour locations were designed to showcase the variety of economic development thriving in the Huntington area to the more than 100 economic development officials. The event also featured many guest speakers including Ann Barth, TechConnect executive director; Christy Bailey, National Coal Heritage Area executive director; and Russ Bailey, U.S. Foodservice president.
Gary Walton, Huntington Area Development Council president and event organizer, said the conference is not only a great resource for business information, but also a perfect networking opportunity. He said the opportunity to speak with leaders from around the state is invaluable for those in economic development. He said he's proud to be able to highlight the great things going on around Huntington to his peers.
The conference wraps up Tuesday at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, following a morning of information sessions featuring a variety of local and state business leaders. The first session begins at 9:15 a.m., with the last beginning at 11:30 p.m.
Construction on a new section of the PATH - Paul Ambrose Trail for Health started Monday on Washington Boulevard between Glenwood Terrace and Holswade Drive (just east of Meadows Elementary School at Hal Greer Boulevard).
The new section will help link Ritter Park to Spring Hill Cemetery.
The project is being funded with private donations through previous Fit Fest events.
The sixth annual Fit Fest will take place at 1 p.m. this Sunday, Sept. 14, at Ritter Park. The event aims to create a healthier community and benefit the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health. Fit Fest is comprised of a 5K walk/run; 10K run; children's 25, 50 and 100 yard dashes; half-mile and mile runs; and healthy vendors and exhibitors.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The uncertainty in the nation’s transportation infrastructure system is “creating an invisible crisis,” according to the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Anthony Foxx, speaking Monday at the West Virginia Transportation and Infrastructure Summit, said forecasts show the U.S. will be $1.8 trillion behind in transportation infrastructure spending by 2020.
Part of that is caused by partisan gridlock over the reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund, which in part reimburses states for federally funded highway projects. Money in the fund is expected to run out next month, and departments of transportation across the country will soon have to decide if they will stop or cut back highway projects and affect about 700,000 jobs.
“States can’t plan,” Foxx said.
Foxx, 40, pointed out past generations have worked to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure, including railways and the interstate highway system. But because Congress hasn’t taken action — 27 continuing resolutions have been passed in the last few years to fund the Highway Trust Fund, but no long-term solution has been reached — the current generation is poised to leave things in worse shape for future generations.
“My generation of Americans started out pretty well,” Foxx said. “We had the highest standard of living in the world, the strongest, most innovative economy, the best education. We did so because prior generations had blessed us with their own grit, their own determination, their own sacrifices, their own commitment to the future.”
In recent years, the U.S. has begun to slip in global rankings. Some speakers at the summit suggested the nation’s crumbling infrastructure system is at least partly to blame.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., a ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, said other countries are continuing to invest in their infrastructure systems and pull ahead of the U.S. in terms of economic development and the ability to compete in the global marketplace.
“It is certainly a critical time for our nation’s transportation and infrastructure,” Rahall said. “Modern, safer transportation networks have induced economic development, brought jobs, improved opportunities and have increased the efficiency and profits of businesses here in West Virginia and beyond.”
Although Congress has been slow to act on reauthorizing the Highway Trust Fund, the vast majority of Americans support increased spending on transportation and infrastructure. Frank Betz, executive director and CEO of the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University, said a study found the U.S. spends less than 2 percent of gross domestic product on transportation annually.
“Americans overwhelmingly support increasing our infrastructure investment as evidence by consistent support for local investments at the ballot box,” Betz said. “American satisfaction ranks 25th of 32 (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations for satisfaction in public transit and 17th overall for satisfaction with our roads.
“More than 90 percent of Americans support an increase in transportation infrastructure spending. With the federal gas tax stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon for 20 years, how can we expect to maintain a transportation system that is safe?”
Betz isn’t the only transportation expert to note the stagnant federal gas tax. Others argue the tax no longer funds the transportation system as it did in 1993, as fewer people drive and fuel-efficient cars are becoming more popular.
“As cars become more and more fuel efficient, which is a good thing, the average car now gets 25 to 30 miles per gallon where 10 or 15 years ago it got 15 or 20,” Larry Malone, project manager for West Virginians for Better Transportation, told the Daily Mail last week. “That means people can spend less on gasoline. When you spend less on gasoline, the number of gallons you buy, when that goes down so does the revenue to the road fund. The road fund is constrained right now because of better fuel efficient vehicles and also inflation has been eating away at the total dollars.”
Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., have introduced a plan that would increase the gas tax by six cents and tie future gas tax increases to inflation. Other, similar plans are on the table as well.
Since 2008, the federal government has taken $50 billion from general funds to fund the needs of the nation’s transportation infrastructure, said Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Union. As Congress stalls on the Highway Trust Fund, seven states have already cut back on their highway projects while 28, including West Virginia, have announced their plans to scale back. But it doesn’t need to be that way, Ruane said.
“The opportunity is right there in front of us,” he said. “Congress needs to seize the moment.”
Nearly 20 employees from the Rahall Transportation Institute and the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research left the office Friday morning to grab paint brushes and trash bags to do some summer sprucing.
Their goal was to touch up the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health mural located at the 10th Street underpass and clean trash and debris from the area. Employees from RTI and Bulldog Creative Services were the primary painters of the mural in 2011, and Emily Hagan, marketing programs project specialist for RTI, said getting volunteers to come out and maintain it has never been a problem.
"So far we have come out once a year to maintain the area," Hagan said. "We don't want to just come out one time, do a project and leave it alone. We want it to stay looking nice for the city."
Hagan said the underpass is a direct gateway connecting downtown Huntington with Ritter Park. She said she was surprised when she first realized how many people use the walkway for exercise or going from one place to another.
Amanda Payne, trails program manager, said as a Huntington resident she is happy to take part in helping the city look nice.
"In college I just lived a few blocks from here, and it's interesting to see the change this mural and the PATH have made," Payne said. "I run here and used to walk this way to go to work, and it's much nicer than just a plain wall."
The Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH) is a bicycle and pedestrian trail system that provides free, healthy recreational opportunities for Huntington and surrounding areas. Hagan said reception of the initiative has been outstanding the past few years, and multiple cities have contacted RTI to inquire how they can replicate the PATH project.
Outdoor enthusiasts in West Virginia now have the ability to plan trips on about 4,000 miles of recreational trail entirely online, whether from a desktop, tablet or smartphone.
The West Virginia Trail Inventory is a digital map of hiking, biking, horseback, water and all-terrain vehicle trails throughout West Virginia that is believed to be one of the first of its kind in the nation.
Friday, officials at the state Division of Tourism debuted the inventory to a group of about 35 tourism and government officials from across the state.
Available online, the map provides a statewide look at where trails begin and where they go, regardless of whether the user is in the Eastern Panhandle or the Metro Valley.
“It’s raw data in a form you can manipulate to your own needs,” said Bill Robinson, the former state trails coordinator who helped with the project.
Users can zoom to individual trails, which can be overlaid on a variety of maps, including topographical and aerial perspectives.
“We had to be very specific about what we wanted to collect,” Robinson said.
By clicking on a given trail, a user can see the uses for which the trail is approved, the elevation profile of a trail, the managing agency responsible for upkeep of the trail and what material comprises the trail’s surface.
“A lot of this information has been GPS-validated,” said Kurt Donaldson, a Geographic Information Systems Manager at West Virginia University. “There’s a lot of purposes that can come from this.”
Donaldson said the process to build the map has taken about two years, and is “about 90 percent” complete. Maintenance work will eventually be managed by the state Department of Transportation, which was the lead agency for the map’s creation.
The trail inventory only includes trails open to the public on public land, so private trails, like those at Snowshoe Resort in Pocahontas County, are not included.
West Virginia University and the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute at Marshall University have also assisted with the project. WVU and Marshall students have helped verify trail data and trail locations with portable GPS units, with WVU generally assisting in the northern half of the state and Marshall in the southern half.
Still, there are a few areas that aren’t on the map just yet. For example, most hiking trails on public land in the southernmost counties in the state haven’t been mapped, though Amanda Payne, the trail systems program manager at the Rahall Transportation Institute, said those trails are in the works for the next phase of the project.
Tourism officials hope the map will help boost awareness of recreational opportunities in West Virginia, both for out-of-state visitors and state residents.
“We’re not competing against each other, we’re competing against the couch,” Will Miller, an outdoor recreation specialist with the state Division of Tourism, told tourism officials at Friday’s meeting.
Donaldson and Robinson both said to their knowledge, the map is one of the only state digital trail maps in the U.S., though they said other states will likely create their own maps in the coming years.
Administrators are also encouraging the public to identify and report any corrections, errors or omissions about the map. Such submissions can be made at the map website itself under the “Submit Info” tab.
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HUNTINGTON -- Right in downtown Huntington there is a center dedicated to providing economic, policy and financial research and a variety of other services to the region -- and that center just brought in a new leader who plans to help it continue to prosper just like the businesses it works with.
Jennifer Shand, Ph.D., recently took on the role of director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Marshall University, which falls under the umbrella of the Nick J. Rahall, II Appalachian Transportation Institute (RTI). She said she believes her ability to effectively communicate with business owners and leaders will be a valuable asset to CBER.
"I like to get to know people, to know what it is they are doing and make connections," Shand said. "I think sometimes researchers get too bogged down in the technique. Yes, there's power in doing the best analysis you can and make sure everything is completely correct in the academic sense, but if we can't present that in a way people can understand and digest then the information just goes into a paper and stays there."
CBER is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to being a resource for information. Shand said she is excited to help lead a top-notch research center and develop business and economy in West Virginia and the Tri-State.
The center focuses on energy, education, health, regional development and economics -- all of which are vital to Huntington and the region's growth, Shand said.
"Our most well-developed program areas are energy and national resources economics and demographics," Shand said. "We are trying to explore more how we can reach out to, particularly, the local community and local business. That's a relationship we look to really strengthen."
Shand said through her previous roles at the Economic Center at the University of Cincinnati and Virginia Tech's Office of Economic Development she became aware of CBER and Marshall University. When the opportunity presented itself to take the role of director in Huntington, she said she felt it would be a great fit -- and so far it has been.
Frank Betz, executive director and CEO of RTI and CBER, said the organization is honored to have Shand join the team.
"Her education, as well as her experience in the realms of regional economics and economic development will add tremendous value to our clients, partners and stakeholders," Betz said. "I look forward to working with her in continuing the CBER tradition of quality research and independent analysis to aid economic decision making in the region."
Shand said even in the small amount of time she has been in Huntington she has grown to love the city and surrounding region. She said she looks forward to helping expand business and economic development in her new community.
Shand received her Ph.D. in economics from The Ohio State University, with a specialization in international econimics and regional development.
She received her master's in economics from Miami University of Ohio and her bachelor's in economics and international affairs from James Madison University.
The saying “if you build it, they will come” might have been written for a movie, but it just as easily could have been written for Huntington’s Paul Ambrose Trail for Health.
The 26-mile network of recreational trails, popularly known as the PATH, has been in development since 2007. Bethany Williams, program coordinator for the Huntington-based Rahall Transportation Institute, said the trail’s growing presence has sparked a surge in recreational cycling, walking and jogging within the city.
“There has been a change,” she said. “People seem to be thinking healthier. We’re especially seeing it downtown, where bike lanes have been installed. People are riding bikes to work and school, as well as riding them for fun and fitness.”
Such use dovetails precisely with developers’ vision for the PATH. Williams said its namesake, Dr. Paul Ambrose, championed health and wellness as a form of preventative medicine. After Ambrose was killed in the 9-11 terror attacks, his family set up a foundation to help promote Ambrose’s obesity-fighting ideals.
In 2007, Huntington-area officials began drawing up plans for a multi-use trail in and around the city. A public contest gave the trail its name in 2008, and in 2009 volunteers built the first new segment of trail in the city’s St. Cloud Commons Park. Successful fund-raising efforts led to plans for segments in the Harveytown area and along the two sections of the city’s floodwall.
So far, eight sections have been completed and are in use: a 4.8-mile stretch along the floodwall between Ritter Park and West Huntington; a 2.75-mile stretch along Memorial Boulevard between Ritter Park and Harveytown Road; a 1.7-mile stretch along the floodwall in Guyandotte; a 1.5-mile stretch through Spring Hill Cemetery; a 1.1-mile stretch that encircles Ritter Park; another 1.1-mile stretch that encircles St. Cloud Common Park; an 0.59-mile stretch along Harveytown Road; and an 0.25-mile stretch near the Ohio River in East Huntington.
Organizations began holding events on the trail in 2009.
The first was FitFest, a multi-distance run/walk and community event. Next was the Tour de PATH, a multi-distance bike ride in and along the trail network.
On April 3, the Tour de PATH will join forces with the Healthy Huntington Festival, the culmination of the Healthy Huntington 90-Day Challenge.
“The challenge gives Huntington residents a set of things to do every week that promote healthy living,” Williams explained. “The gist is to add a few things every week, and by the end of 90 days it should result in some lifestyle changes. Holding the Healthy Huntington Festival at the end of that gives people a chance to celebrate the improvements they’ve made in their health.”
The festival, headquartered at the city’s Pullman Square shopping and dining area, will kick off at 8 a.m. with a 5K run/walk. Williams said event’s vendors will focus on healthy eating and healthy habits that include exercise.
The Tour de PATH is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., also at Pullman Square. Williams said the event, which is free and open to all participants, is
“not just for adults, either. Kids are welcome, especially on the shorter ride, which is slower-paced for their little bikes.
“The rides include a 4-mile loop around downtown and Marshall [University]; a 7-mile loop that goes around Marshall and out to Ritter Park and back; and a Grand Tour of 26 miles that follows the PATH where it has been built. There will be two groups going out on the long ride, a slower-paced group and a fast-paced group.”
Williams said the Huntington Police Department’s bike patrol officers would accompany riders on the 4-mile circuit. “It’s going to be a really safe ride,” she said. “The only thing we ask is that riders wear helmets. Those who participate will be given a chance to purchase commemorative t-shirts.”
City and county officials hope eventually to link the scattered segments into a single cohesive unit. It’s possible to ride the entire trail now, but hopping from segment to segment involves riding on city streets or walking on sidewalks.
Williams believes the day will come when people throughout the city will be able to access the trail without traveling more than a few blocks.
“The plans are in place,” she said. “Now it’s a matter of securing the funding and doing the work to link the segments together.”
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