CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The money will have to come from somewhere.
State Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) and state House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley (D-Harrison) said there is nowhere else to cut the state budget to generate the kind of money needed to pay for West Virginia’s future road construction and maintenance needs.
“We need to make people recognize somehow that, if they want their roads built and maintained, they’re going to have to be paid for from some source,” said Miley.
“You’re not going to be able to fix the roads without a significant infusion in money,” said Kessler. “To do that, there’s three things you’re going to have to rely on, ‘the three ts,’ tolls, taxes and the truth.”
Both Miley and Kessler recently weighed in on the funding recommendations from members of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.
After nearly a year of study, the Commission is recommending that West Virginia sell $1.1 billion in bonds for road construction and maintenance projects statewide and pay for those bonds by continuing the tolls on the 88-mile long West Virginia Turnpike beyond 2019 and eventually raising those tolls.
As proposed, about $100 million would also come from increases to fees through the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Southern West Virginia residents and their representatives at the State House have been critical of the toll plan, saying they’ve had enough of the tolls that are scheduled to be retired when the current bonds are paid off in the next six years. The West Virginia Turnpike runs through Mercer, Raleigh, Fayette and Kanawha counties.
Those with the Blue Ribbon Commission argued for the proposal since an estimated 75 percent of the Turnpike’s traffic comes from outside of the Mountain State.
“I can understand the frustrations of the folks in southern West Virginia,” said Kessler.
At this point, Miley said he “probably” would oppose continued tolling. “I sympathize with the folks down in the southern part of the state who have paid tolls with the promise that the tolls will be taken off,” said Miley.
“At the same time, we have a problem here that no one seems to want to address head on and squarely with any alternative solutions.”
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin could use the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations to develop road funding legislation to introduce during the 2014 Regular Legislative Session when it starts in January. In the past, he has not been supportive of the Turnpike toll plan.