The Work of the ARC
The vision for the work of the Appalachian Regional Commission has evolved ever since President Johnson signed the law into effect in 1965. Early projects funded by the act represented many local, immediate needs including hospitals, vocational education facilities, public libraries, and public health initiatives such as water delivery and treatment systems and waste management. The larger infrastructure programs, especially the Appalachian Development Highway System, took much longer to plan and execute. A major focus of the ARC, the corridor highway system was designed to increase mobility for people and goods throughout Appalachia by developing a road network to link together major population areas with the interstate highway system. In West Virginia, six of these corridor highways were designed to link together segments of interstates 68, 81, 77, 79, and 64. Beyond the highways, the ARC also funded major infrastructure improvements such as bridges, including West Virginia’s famous New River Gorge Bridge, and expanded airports to facilitate greater access to air travel.
The Appalachian Regional Commission was conceived as having a defined ending once its initial core goals were achieved. Some viewed this end date coming as early as the 1971 when the original bill was due for reauthorization. Senator Byrd delivered impassioned remarks defending the program and calling for its renewal, a pattern which he would continue to uphold throughout the rest of his life and political career. Nonetheless, each reauthorization brought about changes to the program, its funding, and mission. Within a decade of its formation, the ARC began to operate as a more permanent entity, planning long-range projects, especially the development of the highway system.
Keeping the ARC Operational
Through the original design of the program, the ARC relies on appropriations from Congress to fund its work. Additionally, the legislation which authorizes the commission is subject to reauthorization, a process where the House and Senate have to agree to continue the program, generally for a period of five years. The last reauthorization took place in 2014-15 and carries the program for 2020. Since its passage, the reauthorization efforts have been marked with attempts to eliminate the program by its opponents. Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia was a chief supporter of the legislation throughout his career and a critical voice in support of the ARC.