CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The chairman of the governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways does not think the group’s comprehensive road report will be shelved and ignored.
“I don’t think it will collect dust,” said Jason Pizatella, acting cabinet secretary for the state Department of Administration. He predicted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin would move quickly to bring together legislative leaders to consider all of the report’s recommendations.
“I think that they will get together and they will discuss, not only the recommendations, but also the facts that are contained because I think it’s on the minds of everybody. This is just a starting point,” Pizatella said Thursday during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”
According to the 58-page Blue Ribbon report that was three years in the making, the state will require $1.1 billion a year to adequately address maintenance and expansion of West Virginia’s highway system.
The report included recommendations on ways to generate new money for roads. One suggestion was the continuation of collecting tolls on the West Virginia turnpike beyond 2019 to finance $1 billion in construction bonds.
“The way we’re seeing highways being financed nationally increasingly is through toll revenues,” Tom Witt, an economist and member of the Blue Ribbon Commission, said. “In fact, I think it would be a major problem if West Virginia removed the tolls and turned the liabilities for the maintenance of the Turnpike over to the state Road Fund.”
Other proposals for new road revenues included increasing the motor vehicle sales tax from its current five percent to six percent to match the state sales tax, adding to fees paid to the state Division of Motor Vehicles and creating alternative fuel vehicle registration fees.
Witt is also a supporter of allowing local governments more freedom to address their own road needs, as Monongalia County is attempting.
“We have had a tendency in West Virginia to manage everything from the top down and that’s clearly not going to be the most efficient way going forward,” he said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
The Blue Ribbon report concluded that driving on rough roads in the Mountain State costs the average West Virginia motorist $333 annually in vehicle repairs.
“West Virginians feel a personal connection to the road system because it’s something that we use every day and it’s something that we all encounter every day,” Pizatella said.
“I think most people understand that the days of having a free lunch are over with and the ability to get something for free is something that’s just not going to be available.”
Witt argued the road issue is about West Virginia’s future. “We have to recognize the critical importance highway infrastructure that’s modern and safe has for economic development in the state,” he said.