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As West Virginia seeks to improve its system of roads, a team of West Virginia University researchers is exploring ways to minimize the impacts of these projects on the environment.

WVU’s Environmental Research Center is teaming with the West Virginia Division of Highways and a number of other partners to improve the planning process for highways in regards to environmental concerns such as avoiding impacts to wetlands and streams, watershed management, avoidance of endangered species, and maintenance of biodiversity while still allowing for highway construction.

Researchers will focus on two ongoing projects: the Coalfields Expressway (US 121), which runs from Beckley southwest to Virginia, and the King Coal Highway (US 52), which runs from Bluefield northwest towards Kentucky.

“There are no four-lane highways in this region, which reduces economic development potential and that really hurts the citizens in the southern coalfields region,” said Jim Anderson, lead investigator on the project and a professor of wildlife and fisheries resources in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.

The WVU team will evaluate the potential for new tools to streamline permitting processes associated with portions of these two highway projects. They’ll evaluate and customize previously designed planning tools that were created to help facilitate transportation planning and environmental concerns in other states to maximize their effectiveness in West Virginia.

“West Virginia needs more economic development and understands that highways are part of an economic growth strategy,” Anderson said. “However, we recognize that the growth must not come at the expense of ecosystem health and services.”

Consequently, the research team will represent a wide range of disciplines to address the complex issues in play. Anderson is joined by Division of Forestry and Natural Resources colleagues Todd Petty, Todd Katzner and Walter Veselka. Sam Lamont will provide the environmental modeling technology of the Davis College’s Natural Resource Analysis Center, complemented by the spatial analysis expertise of Mike Strager of the college’s resource economic program.

Hodjat Ghadimi, of the college’s Division of Design and Merchandising, will provide regional planning expertise. Lian-Shin Lin, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in WVU’s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, will bring his extensive experience in water quality and aquatic ecosystems to the table.

Their work is being funded by a highly competitive $360,000 grant from the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

Established in 2009, the goal of WVU’s Environmental Research Center is to provide a center of excellence that effectively informs policy and promotes economic development focused on a sustainable and productive natural environment.



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