MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – An economics professor emeritus at West Virginia University says additional taxes and fees will have to be part of any plan to pay for West Virginia’s long-term road construction and maintenance needs.  “Unfortunately, it’s going to take money,” said Dr. Tom Witt on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

West Virginians are already paying 54 cents per gallon in state and federal taxes every time they fill up at a gas station.  The federal excise tax accounts for 18 cents of that total while the rest goes to the state, but Witt said it is not enough to adequately sustain the Road Fund.

Courtesy photo

Dr. Tom Witt

Witt sees a “crisis in financing,” not only for roads in West Virginia, but those across the United States largely because people are driving more fuel efficient vehicles, as the federal government mandates, these days.

Additionally, “There’s demographic changes in West Virginia that are lowering the average number of miles driven annually.  Nationally, we know the vehicle miles traveled per motorist is down about ten percent.  We have these alternative-fueled vehicles that don’t contribute motor fuel excise taxes,” and Witt said that trend was expected to continue.

In 2001, he said drivers were paying a lower gas tax, but were driving vehicles that averaged about ten mpg.  If a driver traveled 12,500 miles in a year, their total highway taxes in West Virginia, according to Witt, would add up to about $320.  Thirteen years later, Witt said, with vehicles that average 25 mpg, the total gas taxes amount to less than half of that.

Witt is a member of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways which has recommended a number of ways to generate needed road money including raising fees through the state Division of Motor Vehicles, dedicating the consumer sales tax collected on vehicle repairs and auto parts to the Road Fund, continuing tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike to finance road bonds for projects across West Virginia and identifying inefficiencies within the state Department of Transportation.

The Blue Ribbon Commission has not yet submitted a final report to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

“They’re all good ideas,” said Witt.  “And, I think, the purpose of the Commission, once they issue the final report, is to have that dialogue with the voters to see what kind of future highway systems they want to have and how they’re going to be able to pay for it.”

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the tax per gallon of gas is 36 cents in Virginia, 45 cents in Maryland, 60 cents in Pennsylvania, 46 cents in Ohio and 48 cents in Kentucky.  Californians pay the highest gas tax, at 71 cents per gallon, followed by New York at 68 cents per gallon.

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Comments

  • Williemae

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  • Brian

    So let me get this right. If the federal government would abolish fuel efficiency standards, we'd have more gas purchases and more money for roads - not to mention higher demand drives down costs in a competitive market. Also if we could keep and attract people to WV would help with funding roads. Don't need a Ph. D. to figure this stuff out. Government is so bullheaded they do need a Professor of economics.

    • The bookman

      " not to mention higher demand drives down costs in a competitive market."

      Cost of what?

      • Brian

        I defer to Adam Smith. Higher demand creates more suppliers in a competitive market. Consumers buy high demand products at the lowest price available. How many people stop at the gas station offering fuel $0.01 cheaper than the one across the street?

  • Eric

    For transportation purposes, WV has difficult terrain to work with. It has difficult weather to work with. It has too many roads for an often declining population. According to Bloomberg, it has the highest per capita infrastructure needs of any state, by far--almost 50% higher than the #2 state, and it largely has an obsolete economy. It is the Detroit of states.

    • cutty77

      @Eric,
      I'm not buying your excuse. This was a couple of years ago,but WV was The 13th most taxed state in The Country. Just gas alone is 36 cents per gal. We have The Highest Cell phone Tax in The Country. People in WV are Taxed to Death.We have to fix these roads,but i guess we could stay at bottom in everything. We really can't go any lower can we.

      • Eric

        Juggle things however you want, WV is just an old, crippled state that can't afford to maintain the road network it has under any scenario, and isn't likely to make the political choice of essentially abandoning uneconomic roads.

  • Jasper

    As a civil engineer who lives in WV, but doesn't work in the state it bothers me to hear about increased fuel taxes or toll roads.

    Toll roads often take 20-30 years for the costs of the road construction and rehabilitation/maintenance to be fully recovered. With that said often the roads near them take the brunt of the traffic (from documented traffic studies) and they in turn face increased deterioration due to the increased traffic load. People just change their driving habits to avoid the toll roads if possible.

    Gas taxes due not work as they simply do not cover the costs of maintaining the roads nor allow for new road construction.

    In surrounding states some road improvements are funded by the developers who automatically pass on the costs to the businesses or the homeowner.

    Nationally, under the current administration there is a push to make all interstates available to the states as toll roads.

    Personally, I believe this is a push by those in charge to make long distance commuting more like those in Europe. Where people do NOT commute long distances by privately owned vehicles, but rather by mass transit.

    Until states reorganize how they do business as a whole and remove a lot of the state workers as employees there is no reason to believe the situation will improve. Private businesses and companies have shown that they can provide good products and improved efficiency in road construction and maintenance. However, the hoops that they have to jump through getting from the beginning of a road contract the the end are enormous and often are the result of the inflated process that oversees them.

    A recent trip through the state of Texas was very eye opening to me. As I drove through the construction zones there were literally hundreds of construction workers present (ALL PRIVATE Companies) doing the work and quality control, with only minor supervision by a very few state inspectors. The model there is that the companies have to meet a standard for the road and then a period of performance that is 5-10 years before any repairs are needed to that road. A bond is placed in hold for that performance and is released by increments as the road service life is reduced by each year and a reward/bonus is then paid to the contractor for each year of performance successfully completed. If the road fails then the bond is used to fix the road. And it becomes harder for the construction company to get another bond if this happens.

    Just my thoughts. But it appears to work.

    • WVtoTX

      As someone who moved from WV to Texas I have to agree the model works well of using private contractors. The roads are built very quickly.

  • Paul

    I just finished a trip that went through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky. West Virginia's roads were far and away the worst of any of those states.

    It is clear something has to be done. Personally, I would not be opposed to doubling the registration fees for vehicles and adding another nickel on the gas tax if the politicians would keep their hands off the money and insure it is equitably distributed throughout the state for road maintenance.

    • Ronin

      Just spent two years in a few of those states.

      WV does NOT have worse roads than three of them.

  • Teufel

    Why not try making DOH more efficient and use money saved to highway maintenance?

    • The bookman

      Why not do that AND seek a real solution to our maintenance and construction deficits? There isn't enough waste, fraud, and abuse in the entire state budget to fix the gaping hole that is our crumbling infrastructure. That is how bad it really is, IMHO.

      • Aaron

        What we are not discussing is the ~$5,000,000,000,000.00 needed for new projects. Where do we get that money.

        • Ronin

          Local, legal production and sale of cannabis for recreational use by adults over 18, the manufacture and sale of glassware from the purest silica in the nation, West Virginian, and the manufacture and sale of hemp and hemp products by WV farmers and craftspeople would all generate millions in tax revenues.

          Or we could just keep believing myths from a movie back in the 50s, call all cannabis users dope-heads, pretend everyone is a Cheech and Chong stereotype instead of someone who was probably smarter than you or your kid in high school, and stay poor, conservative, and a joke.

        • The bookman

          I hope that's Billion instead of Trillion! If we are going to agree to claim all these roads as public rights of way, then we have to accept the mandate to maintain them. I live in a very rural setting, served by a gravel county route. The amount of money spent to maintain it is astounding. And it is still in poor shape, as everything they do is half a measure.

          I would like to see us divest ourselves of these types of roads at the state level and send them back to the Counties. The Counties then need to determine which should remain public, serves a public need, and which should return to private maintenance.

  • Rich

    Duh headline and story of the day.

  • WV Worker

    Tolls need to be installed on several highways in the state. Like southern part of the state the tolls only cover expenses in the countries where the toll road is located. One way would be to make Tramack pay their own expenses period. Toll money been used the wrong way IF the Turnpike is being used more from out of state drivers image what the traffic in Morgantown , Fairmont, Clarksburg and surrounding areas comes from, Ohio, Maryland, Pa that would add a lot of money to fix roads. Add tolls booths it only hurts a little.

    • Aaron

      You cannot install tolls unless the construction is new OR there is a major upgrade to the road.

    • Paul

      Tolls are not the answer. Most other states aren't putting in more tolls. I can see tolls for new road construction, but not for existing highways. Go ahead and raise the fees and gas taxes and get it over with.

  • zero tolerance

    Pull the taxes off the Marcellus Well companies. They are much to blame for the destruction to the road infrastructure. A difficult Winter as well but why increase severance taxes?

    What they are paying to surface and/or mineral rights owners is chicken feed as compared tot he revenue they are getting from the gas. Why not create program to fix, maintain, and improve or roadways?

    • Paul

      I absolutely agree with this. Impose a 5% wellhead tax on all oil and gas extractions, and earmark it for road maintenance, but only in the counties where the wells are located.

  • cutty77

    Its also time for a new DOH Chief. I'm tired of hearing him BS everybody all the time.

  • cutty77

    Once a Month i travel to down south. I go through Ky,Tenn.and Ga. We by far how The worse roads of anybody,its not even close either. All those states are doing very well,and we continue to stay at the bottom.

  • A Civil Engineer

    Great ideas but how about the trucking industry destroying the road with their over loaded trucks?

    How about the counties/state tax every developments each new home for the destruction of feeder road to the development? Overloaded cement, gravel, supply and loads too overweight for the roads leading to the development?

    Where are the State of WV weight units to insure laws are being followed with respect to weigh of trucks?

    How about solving problems before you start taxing?

    • Aaron

      I've been around trucks nearly all my life and the only place I see the plethora of trucks overweight you describe is in the coal industry. Thing is, the roads in coal country are often some of the better roads in the state.

      I do agree that heavy traffic in much of the Marcella Shale industry is hurting smaller local and county roads, which is why I believe there should be an infrastructure tax added to gas specifically for the counties of which it is extracted.

      • A Civil Engineer

        Aaron,

        I don't disagree about the coal trucks but in Monongalia County expanding subdivisions haul stone and asphalt and concrete over undersigned roads. They make they money on the subdivision homes but don't do a dang thing about the roads that are under design for such loads.

        Please observe some time trucks full loaded with 3 and 4 rear axles with only down to haul trucks loaded to capacity.

        Just remember if you are every involved in an accident with a truck make sure it is weighed before it moves or have it hauled to a weight station.

  • Aaron

    The one aspect of that commission proposal that simply will not work is to continue tolls on the turnpike. The commission estimated that extending tolls on the turnpike would bring in enough revenue to fund the highway for one year. No one can make a logical, reasonable argument to extend tolls for 30 years that will only provide revenue for one year.

    The fact that otherwise intelligent individuals would make such an ignorant recommendation baffles me.

    • Wirerowe

      I agree Aaron about the turnpike proposal. It was based on political cowardice. Approximately 2 /3 of the traffic on the turnpike is out of state. Provide ez passes that provide a reduction for those that use it a lot presumably West Virginians and shift the burden for paying taxes to out of staters. They were going to double the tolls and it would have provided more money than you figured. Tom Witt is right and nobody wants to hear it but we will have to raise taxes to stay even on road maintenance. There is not enough fat in the system to come up with big dollars.

      • Aaron

        The problem with that theory is that even if the business remains, they're still only looking at 2-3 years of funding, which given the length of tolls, is not an equitable trade.

        It is also added incentives on the state not fund I73/74 from Huntington to Princeton as that would provide a viable alternative to the turnpike for much of the truck traffic going into the mid-west.

        As I said, I do not believe those who support retaining tolls on the turnpike can make a valid argument to support that plan.

        • Toll aren't that bad

          I am fine with the tolls if it means that road is cleared during the winter. Right now the Turnpike is the only decent road in the winter. I commute to Charleston everyday and I buy my EZ Pass for Chelyan and Pax barriers. North Beckley comes free with the pass. The fee pays for about a month of round trip driving and the rest of the year is free. There is no way the state can maintain another 88 miles plus the numerous bridges on that road. You would be surprised how many southern West Virginians agree with me. We just aren't as loud and vocal as the minority who don't like tolls.

  • john

    Pure money mismanagement, pure and simple.
    No one is accountable to any one. Just waste funds, after all its only tax money and more can always be obtained.

  • dan the man

    "It's going to money to maintain WV roads."

    -That is the idiot quote of the week.-

    Why can't we just borrow from foreign countries and run large deficits like our federal government does??? sarcasm