By Jody Brumage
Corridor L is one of West Virginia’s segments of the Appalachian Development Highway System, connecting two U.S. Interstates, I-77 and I-79. The road travels over one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks, the New River Gorge Bridge, and is an important link to major tourist and recreation sites. Like the other corridor highways in West Virginia, Corridor L was originally planned in 1965 with the passage of the Appalachian Regional Development Act. Construction on the highway, originally a two-lane road, was initiated in 1969 and completed a decade later, extending for 70.2 miles through Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, and Braxton Counties. The famous bridge, carrying the highway over the New River, was completed in 1977 and stood as the world’s longest single-arch steel span (a record which remained unbroken until 2003).
The initial construction of Corridor L was expedient in comparison to other roads in the corridor system which were not completed until the late-1990s or early-2000s (Corridor H in the eastern part of West Virginia is still under construction today). However, within a decade of its completion in the late-1970s, the two-lane highway was unable to adequately accommodate the increased amount of traffic moving through the region. As growth in the Beckley and Clarksburg/Fairmont areas on either end of Corridor L continued in the late-1980s, increased traffic on the road led to calls for its expansion.
Working in collaboration with regional agencies and organizations, Senator Byrd built the case for expanding Corridor L on several points. In addition to accommodating the increased traffic flow on Corridor L, Senator Byrd emphasized the improved safety that would come to the route if it were widened to four-lanes. The expansion was also encouraged as a way to make the region more accessible to tourism for recreational attractions such as the New River Gorge National River, providing a greater boost to the area’s economy. In support of this latter goal, Senator Byrd secured an appropriation that allowed tourism studies to be conducted by West Virginia University, Davis and Elkins College, and Concord University.
The remaining section of Corridor L was expanded to four lanes over three years between 1994 and 1997. The expansion required over 1,700 workers who moved an estimated 12 million cubic meters of rock in order to widen the roadbed for the highway. Eight additional bridges and two interchanges were also added to the corridor. In total, the project cost $287 million to complete, utilizing state and federal funding sources. Additional projects that were supported in conjunction with the construction on Corridor L included restoration of the town of Thurmond and the Fayette Station Bridge, both historic sites within the New River Gorge National River.