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Project Profile: King Coal Highway

King Coal Highway

photo credit: Mingo Country Redevelopment Authority


Southern West Virginia

Project Sponsor / Borrower

West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT)

King Coal Highway Authority

Program Areas

Value Capture




The King Coal Highway is a planned four-lane highway approximately 95 miles long running through McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Wyoming, and Wayne Counties, West Virginia along or near currently existing U.S. Route 52 from U.S. Route 119 near Williamson to I-77 in Bluefield. Congress designated the route as part of the high priority I-73/I-74 North-South Corridor from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the Carolinas.

Environmental approvals have been obtained for the entire King Coal corridor, and the project has been divided into 11 usable and operationally independent sections. However, since the priority designation in 1995 and the formation of the King Coal Highway Authority in 1999, a lack of funding compounded by two recessions has limited construction to one section, the 12-mile "Red Jacket" section in Mingo County stretching from four miles south of Delbarton to U.S. 44 at Horsepen Mountain.

The Red Jacket section has been constructed through a partnership among WVDOT, private coal mining enterprise (Nicewonder Contracting, Inc. [NCI]), a local redevelopment authority, and FHWA. In the early 2000s, the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority helped facilitate permits for construction of the Red Jacket highway section that included permission to mine coal along the route. Regulatory agencies were more willing to allow permits for coal removal if a constructive use was found for the excess material that occurred as a byproduct of the removal process. In this case, participating coal companies contributed right-of-way, road foundation construction, and rough grading that the state could subsequently pave and complete. The mining companies also provided input in determining the alignment of the highway to ensure that it provided good access to coal-rich areas.

The negotiated special agreement resulted in significant cost savings to the state due to private, in-kind contributions and an accelerated construction timetable.


Entire 95-mile facility - $1.6 billion (2004 estimate)

Red Jacket section inclusive of design, right-of-way, utility relocation, and construction

  • Traditional contracting estimate - $339.4 million
  • Negotiated contract estimate - $146-169 million (including payments to NCI and $49.4 million for final paving, signage, markings, and drainage)
Funding Sources

Federal and state funding

Project Delivery / Contract Method

Special negotiated agreement

Private Partner

Design-builder - The Alpha Corporation

Equity/in-kind contributor - Nicewonder Contracting, Inc.

Project Advisors / Consultants

Not available


Not applicable

Duration / Status

Red Jacket section opened 2011.

Other sections in various stages of planning, design or construction.

Financial Status

Red Jacket section closed. Other sections seeking funding arrangements.

  • Coal mining construction activities saved an estimated $150 million out of the total anticipated construction cost of the Red Jacket section and also accelerated the completion of the project. The start date for the Red Jacket section was advanced to 2004 from 2009, and the construction schedule was shortened by one year.
  • The King Coal partnership approach provides a potential model for other transportation projects, including the Coalfields Highway in Virginia and other projects in Ohio and Kentucky. Coal companies find it advantageous to agree to build the highway for the government as a part of broader mineral removal operations. The highway itself is considered to be a constructive public benefit that, in part, serves to justify permitting the coal extraction. The agreement for the Red Jacket section included payment provisions based on the amount of marketable coal recovered. It established a cost sharing plan where the state and federal governments agreed to provide funding, but that the public subsidy would be reduced in the event that the price of coal increased.
Related Links / Articles

King Coal Highway Official Site

“King Coal Highway: Model P3” - TR News Article (May-June 2014)


Michael Mitchem
Executive Director
King Coal Highway Authority
Tel: (304) 664-6200

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