I-66 won’t win any popularity contests in Fairfax but the heavily-congested corridor that runs from the D.C. line nearly to West Virginia looks pretty appealing to business interests in West Virginia.
Writing in the Charleston Gazette, Democratic Congressional candidate Howard Swint argues that extending I-66 into West Virginia would create “sustainable jobs with long-term benefits that diversify the state’s economy.”
It probably comes as news to most Northern Virginia commuters but Swint says I-66 was originally proposed as a “futuristic east-west intermodal transportation system designed to channel commerce along a central passageway that would span the nation and include high-speed rail service.”
Well, it already includes high-speed rail service if you count Metro’s Orange Line, which runs through the median of I-66 from Falls Church to Vienna but that’s not what Swint has in mind.
He’s referring instead to I-66′s role as a freight route, which may also come as news to Northern Virginians since trucks aren’t allowed on I-66 inside the Beltway.
Indeed, there is already an “intermodal facility” near the interchange of I-66 and I-81, a heavily congested north-south artery that is a major trucking route.
The intermodal facility Swint is talking about is the Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal, built by Virginia to create an “intermodal” transfer point where rail and highway freight lines converge to smooth out logistical wrinkles in the supply chain.
The facility “brings the Port of Virginia 220 miles closer to the U.S. market,” according to its Web site.
The inland port is a U.S. Customs and U.S. Department of Agriculture point of entry, and is expected to see a major increase in tonnage when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed.
But while Swint contends that extending I-66 into West Virginia would “yield one of the highest returns of any investment in infrastructure in West Virginia history,” it is currently seen in Washington as a pork barrel project, something West Virginia became well-known for during the long reign of the late Sen. Robert Byrd.
The situation is not helped, Swint says, by incumbent Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s vilification of the Obama Administration. Capito, dubbed “Queen Coal” by the National Journal, argues on her official Web site that coal and other fossil fuels “have been under attack by the Obama Administration which is using burdensome regulations to shut-down this industry.”
Swint’s op-ed on I-66 is one of a series he’s been writing as part of a low-budget, grass-roots campaign. A commercial real estate broker, Swint has vowed not to accept contributions from Political Action Committees.