Tomblin says he’ll call leading lawmakers together soon to talk roads

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Operating the state Division of Highways more efficiently won’t be enough to pay for West Virginia’s growing road needs, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Friday.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin

Even as an audit of the DOH continues, Tomblin predicted tax and fee increases will be necessary to fully fund West Virginia’s immediate road repairs along with future construction.

“(The DOH) has got to be more efficient in the way they spend taxpayers’ money, but at the same time, in order to get our roads repaired and up to where they should be, I think it’s going to take some infusion of money,” Tomblin said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“It’s like delaying putting a new roof on your house. It continues to get worse and continues to do more damage to the inside of your house when it leaks. Our highways are the same way.”

He discussed the recent report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, which estimated it would take $1.1 billion a year to adequately address maintenance and expansion of West Virginia’s highway system.

The commission recommended continued collections of tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike beyond 2019 to finance $1 billion in construction bonds for that work.

Other revenue-generating suggestions included increases to the motor vehicle sales tax from its current five percent to six percent to match the state sales tax, additions to fees paid to the state Division of Motor Vehicles and creations of alternative fuel vehicle registration fees.

Any action on the recommendations will depend on Tomblin and state lawmakers.

“I need to meet with the legislative leadership as quickly as we can to start those discussions and, hopefully, work toward getting a buy-in on either all or part of the recommendations,” Tomblin said.

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s report was released May 20 while Tomblin was in Japan on a trade mission. It was delayed for more than a year, in part, while state officials waited to see what Congress would do with the federal Highway Trust Fund.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives approved another short-term extension for federal highway funding that will expire at the end of July.

Tomblin said that’s not good enough for West Virginia and other states: “We simply cannot afford to fund new construction or the repairs that are really becoming necessary across this country without the help of the federal government.”

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