EASTERN PANHANDLE, W.Va. (WDVM) — All eyes in Washington are on West Virginia. Why? President Biden and Senator Joe Manchin (D – W.Va.) had a phone conversation to start the week about the multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill on Capitol Hill.
On Thursday, Senator Shelley Moore Capito will also be at the White House with her proposal, about a quarter that size. In the fast growing eastern panhandle, economic development chiefs are paying attention.
Dennis Jarvis II, Director of Jefferson County Development Authority, said “It’s not just transportation. It’s water, sewer; it’s natural gas and — equally important — broadband. Rural America is falling further and further behind.”
In neighboring Berkeley County, Economic Development Director Sandy Hamilton is working hard to fill jobs for all the new employers. The latest census figures make her region a popular destination for new residents and business. She underscored the emphasis Jarvis placed on broadband development.
“The eastern panhandle, particularly Berkeley County, has experienced growth over 14 percent,” said Hamilton. “As we’re experiencing that growth, it just makes sense that our infrastructure is suffering and needs to be updated.”
One engineering study says 1,500 West Virginia bridges are structurally deficient. Capito, a member of the Senate Public Works committee, has a $35 billion plan to upgrade water infrastructure alone.
“I think,” said Jarvis, “we’ve got an unprecedented opportunity in the eastern panhandle to be as poised and progressive for growth as anywhere else in the state.”
Some West Virginia highway projects have been on the drawing board for 50 years. Senator Manchin is expected to be in the eastern panhandle by the end of the week to meet with economic development leaders.
One civil engineering study says that West Virginia has nearly 600 dams deemed to be “high hazard” and deserving of attention in the infrastructure package.