Chamber hosts McKinley for breakfast, asks for support on two key infrastructure projects

MORGANTOWN — Rep. David McKinley received a letter urging his support for a couple local high priority infrastructure projects Tuesday morning, and shared his optimistic vision of the state enjoying an economic turnaround.

The Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce hosted McKinley, R-W.Va., for a legislative breakfast. It was a breakfast in name only — coffee was sipped but no one took the time to fill plates with food.

The chamber presented McKinley with a letter jointly signed by the Morgantown Monongalia Metropolitan Planning Organization urging his support of two key local infrastructure projects: improvements on Green Bag Road for heavy truck traffic and expanded operating hours for the Morgantown Locks and Dam.

The Division of Highways, the letter says, is developing a project for part of Green Bag, but McKinley’s support to upgrade the entire corridor, including W.Va. 73 to Interstate 79, would be welcome. Expanded lock hours would boost commercial and recreational use of the Monongahela River.

Chamber Transportation Committee chair Eldon Callen told McKinley that the letter reflects the unity of the county.

Ron Justice, a Transportation Committee member and WVU employee, presented the letter. It’s not always possible to get everyone on the same page regarding transportation priorities, he said, but everyone’s behind these two.

“We think we have a really good opportunity with federal help to make this a reality,” he said.

McKinley talked about the resurgence of optimism in the state. He has two notebooks full of answers to the question “What’s made America Great?” But he also ponders, “What’s held West Virginia back?”

Answering that, he said, “We haven’t been willing to take a risk.” We have goals and aspirations. “We’ve lacked the confidence to carry it out, to try it.”

But that’s turning around, he said. He cited several examples to illustrate that. During the second quarter of last year, West Virginia’s GDP growth was second highest in the nation. By year’s end, we saw more economic growth than any other state. We’ve had the strongest level of construction activity in the nation.

And major companies are looking this way. Northrup-Grumman aerospace is investing $125 million in Mineral County. Boeing is investing in Clarksburg. Hino Motors truck manufacturer in Wood County and Toyota in Buffalo are expanding.

“We’re coming back with a pride and a confidence we’ve never seen before.”

McKinley fielded several questions about the state’s natural gas industry. He talked about the need for the ethane storage hub to feed the petrochemical industry and bring jobs.

Two cracker plants are in development here, he said. We could use more. Houston has 23. Last year, Hurricane Harvey took out 17 of them, and that helped former Texas governor and now U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry get behind development of a hub here.

The hub would serve the West-Virginia-Pennsylvania-Ohio gas fields, he said. It’s a regional issue and we can’t be focused on just West Virginia.

McKinley also fielded questions on education and healthcare.

Regarding education, he echoed the statements of many who’ve said we need to get away from a narrow focus on college prep and expand career and technical education offerings.

Regarding healthcare, McKinley mentioned two efforts to help curb high proscription costs. One is a bill to preserve drug-price discounts to hospitals. Drug makers are fighting that effort, he said.

Another is called the FAST Generics Act. Brand-name drug makers use legal loopholes and foot-dragging to slow the mandatory process of making their medications available for testing by generics makers. This bill aims to prevent that by, among other means, tripling the penalties for delaying the release of their products.

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