CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A past chairman of West Virginians for Better Transportation said lawmakers will have time, during the ongoing legislative session, to address road funding needs in the Mountain State, even though Governor Earl Ray Tomblin only addressed the issue briefly in his State of the State Address on Wednesday night.
“There’s a lot of costs that we don’t see,” said Joe Denault of the ways the state’s deteriorating roads add up for the state and its drivers. “In many, many ways, it would be better for us to dig in our pockets and pay that money in the form of something that’s going to make better roads than it is to pay for the results of bad roads.”
On Thursday, those with West Virginians for Better Transportation helped unveil a new report from TRIP, a national transportation research organization, at the State Capitol.
That report found West Virginia’s system of roads and bridges are crowded and in drastic need of repairs. A third of the state’s major roads are categorized as being in poor or mediocre condition and a third of the state’s bridges show, what’s called, significant deterioration or do not meet current design standards.
The Mountain State also has the second highest traffic fatality rate in the United States.
In addition to costing lives, the TRIP report estimated driving on rough roads costs the average West Virginia driver $333 each year in extra vehicle operating costs, adding up to $400 million total statewide. Those costs take into account factors like tire wear, increased fuel consumption and additional repair costs.
Officials with TRIP said transportation improvements at the local, state and federal levels would create better road and bridge conditions, make those roads and bridges safer and support long-term economic growth in the state.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin touched on design-build highway contracts and the possibility of public-private partnerships for road construction during his State of the State Address on Wednesday night, but offered no potential sources for future road funding.
“Our state road fund has been doing better,” Tomblin noted on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.” Six months into the fiscal year, road fund collections are $19 million above estimates. “I continue to wait for the Blue Ribbon Commission report,” he said.
Tomblin created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways to identify long-term road funding sources. One of the main proposals from that group, which has not yet finalized its report, is to continue tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike beyond 2019 to fund bonds for road construction projects across the state. There has been opposition to that idea.
“What we’ve got to find is a way to have a bond issue that has a dedicated revenue stream that pays for those,” said Denault. He said he was holding out hope for action from lawmakers during the ongoing legislative session, but admitted a comprehensive road funding plan may not be possible during this election year.
“It’s a difficult session for something to get done,” he said. “I think the political reality is that everybody sees is that the House is very closely divided and that it will be difficult to see things move through without tremendous leadership on the part of the leaders of both parties in the Legislature.”
The full TRIP report, titled West Virginia Transportation by the Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility, is available at www.tripnet.org.