West Virginians have been complaining even more loudly than usual this year about the roads, and for good reason. They’re in terrible shape.
Those complaints are not falling on deaf ears. Governor Tomblin, in a speech to the West Virginia Press Association last Friday, cited the social media campaign #FTDR. “It’s ‘Fix the Damn Roads’ if you don’t know,” Tomblin explained.
Tomblin put another $82 million toward road work, meaning the DOH will spend more than $300 million on paving and repairs this year, an all-time high. More than half that money ($162 million) is going toward state-funded projects like pothole patching and repaving, while $59 million is paying for Interstate repairs.
“This was an aggressive effort, but we all know that there’s still much work to be done,” Tomblin said. “But let me be clear. Regardless of any additional funding or appropriations that we may make, all states, including ours, count on federal funds to assist with both new construction and road maintenance.”
He’s right. Congress has been unwilling to pass the traditional six-year funding plan for highways and instead has passed 34 short extensions since 2009. The temporary funding has made it nearly impossible for states to plan for and conduct major highway projects.
Washington lawmakers insist they will finally do that next month. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, paying for all the work necessary to bring West Virginia roads and bridges up to reasonable and safe standards will take a combination of federal and state dollars. An independent audit of the state highway department is expected to be completed later this year. That should reveal some savings and efficiencies.
But, as we have said before, fixing West Virginia’s roads takes real money. The Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways reported earlier this year that it would take another $1.13 billion annually to do all the work necessary.
That’s way out of our price range.
The Commission’s revenue committee did, however, whittle that down to an additional $420 million annually, with the money coming from a combination of savings, efficiencies, increases in the vehicle sales tax and DMV fees, an alternative fuel vehicle registration fee, and dedication of sales tax on vehicle parts (batteries, brakes, etc.) to the State Road Fund.
The State has an unusually high burden with the roads. West Virginia maintains the sixth largest highway system because it’s responsible for all primary and secondary roads; we no longer have a county road system like most states.
Additionally, the mountainous terrain makes building and maintaining roads even more expensive. The weather hasn’t helped. The Tomblin administration reports five storms this year have caused $100 million dollars in damages to West Virginia roads.
The #FTDR campaign has helped raise awareness about the roads, and public policy makers are more likely to respond when they hear a unified voice from constituents. Keep spreading the word.
Fix the Damn Roads.