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Monday, January 25, 2010

Opinion: The seeds of job growth: The Heartland Corridor

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(The following column by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) appeared on the Williamson Daily News website on January 23, 2010. He represents West Virginia's 3rd District.)

The Norfolk Southern rail line that traverses southern West Virginia will soon see its tracks laden with double-stacked cargo containers - increasing shipping and freight jobs opportunities here with the development of a multi-modal port that merges highway, rail and river on the bank of the Big Sandy in Wayne County. All of this is thanks to a southern West Virginia home grown enterprise and a small study undertaken to identify the efficiency of commodities flowing through our regional economy. From that seed a multi-million dollar project blossomed for increasing tunnels size and port development.

The American transportation system is one of our nation's greatest assets. It is vital to our existence, a vehicle for achieving the American dream, and a broad boulevard that leads us beyond our competition in the 21st Century. Here at home in West Virginia, our economic success begins with transportation investment producing more advantageous avenues for business and industry to keep and expand jobs.

How do we best grow a national system of transportation? It begins with the seeds of research, training and education. Hatching ideas from universities is time honored here in our country. Higher education is the goose that lays the golden egg for so many aspects of our economy.

Building upon this notion, we have created a national network of University Transportation Centers (UTCs). One of the strong accomplishments of University Transportation Centers is the practical research they put to work - putting our country to work. Recently, I was honored to receive the Award for Lifetime Achievement in Transportation Research and Education from the Council of University Transportation Centers (CUTC). The council serves as a clearinghouse and coordinating arm of our UTCs across the country. Our own Bob Plymale, state senator and Rahall Transportation Institute director, serves as president of this national council, devoting his time, expertise, and a West Virginia "let's get the job done" spirit to the council's mission.

UTCs connect some of our nation's best and brightest minds in the field of transportation research, technology transfer and education, and work with local governments to address public needs. The academic institutions, government agencies, industry partners and organizations involved are modern day pioneers who are forging pathways to opportunity for the American people.

While each university center may have a unique mission, together they address our country's needs for moving goods and services using highways, railways, waterways and much more. Supporting our jobs and industry today and to grow tomorrow's opportunities, we know depends on our ability and efficiency in connecting people and places.

To foster job growth, attract industry and find funding resources, we must continue to focus on our three C's - Connect, Create, and Communicate. We must create and connect ideas with research and results. One of the best examples of this is the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University.

Over 10 years ago, I was a key architect of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, known as TEA 21. In that bill through a $12 million federal grant, I established the Rahall Transportation Institute (RTI) - a consortium of southern West Virginia colleges and universities which has included: Bluefield State College; Marshall University; Marshall University Community and Technical College; Mountain State University; Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College; and, West Virginia University Institute of Technology. In the 2005 Transportation Act, RTI was awarded $16 million in federal investment I secured under the bill. RTI was responsible for the Heartland Corridor's study I referenced earlier. Its mission for Appalachia is clear in its motto, "building jobs through transportation."

When we come together and pooling our minds, our experience, our muscle, and yes - our money - we, resourceful and inspired West Virginians can tackle age-old challenges and craft creative solutions that will help our region gain and hold a competitive edge for years to come.

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