CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Improvements to West Virginia roads could begin at the start of July, even as the state prepares for a multi-billion-dollar bond vote, the state Transportation Secretary said today.
Road improvement bills passed by the state Legislature last week will provide a boost of additional revenue starting July 1, state Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
The transportation department will be able right away to push out about $30 million in additional funding toward long-overdue maintenance projects, particularly on secondary roads, Smith said.
“These projects are incredibly easy to get out. Early on we’ll have work happening,” Smith said on “Talkline.”
“Even though there’s some lead in, we’re able to accelerate some of these projects and get them out immediately,” he said.
Gov. Jim Justice has promised 48,000 jobs as a result of the full extent of highways work. Whether that number is achieved or not, Smith said the work will be extensive and many employment opportunities will be available right away.
“These are immediate jobs. We’re going to be meeting with office personnel with Administration to see how we can accelerate hiring students to help us,” Smith said.
“We’re going to need engineers, technical folks to help us. Immediate construction jobs. Displaced miners, put those folks to work immediately. I have to give a shoutout to Governor Justice for what he’s done with his vision here.”
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Legislators passed three bills meant to boost work on West Virginia’s highways and bridges.
The most discussed was a Road Fund bill that raises the floor on the fluctuating tax on wholesale gasoline to $3.04, increases fees at the Division of Motor Vehicles and raises the use tax on vehicle purchases from 5 percent to 6 percent.
Together, those measures are estimated to raise at least $130 million more a year for roadwork. If voters approve a road bond this fall, the new revenue would be used to back the bond.
Another bill gives the state additional capacity for tolling highways, extending tolling on the West Virginia Turnpike past the 2019 date when the current bonds would be paid off.
And another raises the amount the highways department can borrow against anticipated federal funding from the current $200 million up to $500 million.
Added together, that’s $2.5 billion to $2.8 billion in potential highways work over the coming years.
All told, Smith said, 500 projects could be ahead.
“This is completely unprecedented when it comes to road building in West Virginia,” he said. “Every day at WVDOT, we’ve been working on what we would do if we were able to get these projects together.”
No vote on the bond has yet been scheduled.
But if voters approve it, Smith said, tentative projects include improvements to the Nitro/St. Albans Bridge on Interstate 64, improvements to Wheeling bridges on Interstate 70, new paving of the Coalfields Expressway, the next segment of Corridor H and more paving of U.S. 35.
“What we’re doing with that general obligation listing is having big projects that have name recognition,” Smith said. “We’re confident the voters are going to be supportive of this.”
A successful bond vote would provide funding for new projects over nearly a decade as bonds are sold, said Mike Clowser, director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia.
“Everyone is going to have to decide what they want to see as far as the future of their highways system,” Clowser said on “Talkline.”
Voters will go to the vote on the bonds knowing that the funding mechanism is already in place because of the bills the Legislature passed, Clowser said.
“We felt the certainty would be more important for voters when they go into the voting booth this fall,” he said.
Meanwhile, Clowser is looking forward to road improvements in the short term.
“People are going to see hopefully an immediate improvement in their road programs after the first of July,” Clowser said.