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Lawmakers hear how international trade could use Corridor H completion

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Global trade could be coming even closer to West Virginia with the completion of Corridor H and a widened Panama Canal.

Lawmakers on Nov. 26 heard from Walter Luschinger from the Panama Canal Authority, Greg Edwards, director of external affairs for the Virginia Port Authority, and Steve Foster, chairman of the Corridor H Authority.

Foster said local business is already feeling the effects of construction on the highway, and right now timber operators and manufacturers are keeping the highway busy. But the road could lead the way to international trade.

Luschinger said the Panama Canal, built in 1914, was built to last 100 years, but Asian container ships have become too large to pass through it. A project to enlarge the canal will bring those Asian ships to the Eastern Seaboard. Luschinger showed lawmakers several maps depicting international trade routes, and Edwards spoke about the local impact.

Right now, the only port deep enough for the Asian container ships on the East Coast is Norfolk. Edwards said East Coast ports are currently in a "very favorable" position for companies because two-thirds of the American population still resides east of the Mississippi River.

"That population still needs fed, clothed and entertained," Edwards said.

He named several companies within 100 miles of ZIP code 25302 that are actively engaged in international trade, such as Toyota Motor Manufacturing, NGK, Diamond Electric, Alcan Aluminum and Rubberlite.

Edwards said Virginia is excited for Corridor H to be completed, because the only way it can grow and expand as a port is by reaching out.

Edwards also explained that both the Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., ports will need dredged to remain competitive with bigger ships.

"They want federal dredging money and permits, which is easier said than done," he said. "I think they will find it impossible that both ports will get funded.

"Most of our East Coast competition is not going to be ready, but Virginia is ready today."