West Virginia is finally going to #FTDR (Fix the Damn Roads).
The highway plans were nearly lost in all the debate and consternation about the budget, but lawmakers did pass several proposals that, if approved by the Governor, will trigger a massive highway construction and maintenance program for the state.
Here are the key components:
–An increase in the sales tax on vehicles from five percent to six percent.
–A reset of the floor price used to calculate the wholesale tax on gasoline that will raise the gas tax by three to four cents a gallon.
–An increase in DMV fees, most notably the annual vehicle registration fee which will rise from the current $28 to $50.
–A continuation of the transfer of consumer sales tax collections on highway construction materials to the State Road Fund.
Collectively, these measures will raise about $130 million in additional dollars every year for road work. The Contractor’s Association of West Virginia estimates the average motorist will pay about another $55 a year with these changes.
The additional funding can also be used to pay the debt service on the $1.6 billion “Roads to Prosperity” bond amendment if voters approve it. No date has been set yet for that vote.
Senate Bill 1003, which was approved by both chambers and sent to the Governor, continues tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike past the 2019 date when the current bonds are paid off. The Governor wants higher tolls, but also a provision allowing motorists to pay a nominal one-time fee annually for unlimited turnpike use.
The money raised from the tolls will support new borrowing to upgrade the turnpike and pay for other road projects.
Earlier during the regular session, lawmakers agreed to raise the amount the highway department can borrow against future federal highway funds from the current $200 million to $500 million. This is not new money, but it does allow the DOH to move more quickly on road projects that are ready now.
All those measures add up to $2.5 to $2.8 billion for highway work for our state. That means in the future the orange barrels will signal major road work, not just a dilapidated section of road that motorists have to avoid.
Governor Justice believes the road work will create 48,000 new jobs. That sounds overly optimistic and out-of-state contractors will get their share of the low-bid work. However contractors are going to be hiring across the state and payrolls will grow.
West Virginia’s roads and bridges are crumbling underneath of us and there hasn’t been enough money from federal or state sources to keep up. These tax and fee increases are extremely modest. In some cases, the fees targeted for adjustment haven’t changed in decades.
This expansive road plan will repair our infrastructure and give the economy a boost. Now, let’s get busy and #FTDR.