About - Coalfields Expressway

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What Is The Coalfields Expressway?

The Coalfields Expressway – designated as U.S. Route 121 and a Congressional High Priority Corridor – is a proposed four-lane limited access highway to provide a modern, safe and efficient transportation artery through the coalfields region of far southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia.

This is a region now served mainly by narrow rural roads.

The expressway will provide safe and rapid access to communities along the corridor, with interchanges connecting citizens of Pound, Clintwood, Clinchco, Haysi, Breaks, Grundy and Slate.

The Virginia portion of the expressway stretches east approximately 50 miles from U.S. Route 23 near Pound, through Wise County Dickenson and Buchanan counties to the West Virginia line near Slate.  

Connectivity within Virginia


Connectivity to interstates


How Will It Be Built?

In 1995, Congress authorized funding for the planning and design of the Coalfields Expressway. 

Projected costs escalated over the years, severely slowing the progress of the building of the highway. 

In 2006, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) began exploring ways to drastically cut those costs.  

This led to the idea of using “coal synergy,” a partnership between VDOT and coal companies that would reduce the construction costs by $2.3 billion, about 45 percent of the total cost.

Legislative Mandate

What Is “Coal Synergy”?

Coal synergy reduces road building costs substantially by using coal companies’ larger-scale earth moving equipment to prepare the road bed to rough grade, allowing the companies to recover marketable coal reserves during road bed preparation.

Coal synergy allows VDOT to align the proposed roadway with Bizzack, Inc., (formerly Rapoca Group) and Alpha Natural Resources’ existing coal reserves.

The coal companies have applied for mining permits. Working in conjunction with these companies will save taxpayers an estimated 45 percent of the constructions costs. 

For those portions of the alignment that do not coincide with planned mining operations, the coal companies’ equipment and specialized techniques also convert to savings for the public.  

In 2013, VDOT estimates the cost of Coalfields Expressway construction at $5.1 billion using traditional construction methods.  

Using coal synergy, the expressway could be built for $2.8 billion. (Construction estimates include cost of interchanges and connector roadways.)

View all Route 121 Public-Private Partnership agreements here:

Who Supports The Road?.

Congress designated the Coalfields Expressway in Virginia as a Congressional High Priority Corridor in 1995, included it in the National Highway System, and authorized funding for planning and design.

The project also has the support of the Virginia legislature and local governing bodies.  

During its 1999 session, the General Assembly passed three resolutions supporting the project. 

The project is also supported by the boards of supervisors of Wise, Dickenson and Buchanan counties, elected representatives from the area's towns, planning commissions, chambers of commerce and planning district commissions. 

In addition, VDOT has actively sought public involvement throughout the development of the Coalfields Expressway project and support has remained strong.

For more information on the Coalfields Expressway, download “The Coalfields Expressway: Road to the Future.” 

Page last modified: Nov. 1, 2019