6:00: Morning News

Contractors call for action on highways bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia residents are fed up with the condition of the state’s roads according to the top man with the group which builds most of them.

“I think people are realizing today the situation of our roads and the situation of our bridges,” said Mike Clowser, executive director of the West Virginia Contractors Association in an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” Wednesday. “A report came out this week that says West Virginia has gone from the 14th worst bridges in the nation to 8th in a two-year period.”

Despite the frustration of the state’s citizens with the matter, lawmakers were unusually silent about the issue until now.  With just under three weeks left in the session, bills to address the highway problems have started to emerge.  The one Clowser and his organization have jumped behind is Senate Bill 610 which is presently in the Senate Finance Committee.

The legislation has a lot of moving parts and some fee and tax increases which have caused some lawmakers concern.  But they shouldn’t be, according to Clowser.

“The average person will pay nine cents a day if those (DMV) fees are increased,” he said. “We’re spending 90 cents a day in bad roads every time we hit a pothole or have to have an alignment.  By paying nine cents more a day, we’re going to save 90 cents.”

Still there is a reluctance even in a tight budget year where revenues are falling short because increasing fees and taxes is a sore subject. The rawest nerve in West Virginia right now, in Clowser’s mind, is the crumbling roads and infrastructure of the state.

“People are realizing if we get another freeze/thaw in the next couple of days our roads are going to go to terrible shape,” he said. “When you look at jobs and the fact we can improve our roads for nine cents a day, I think people are willing to pay that.”

Truckers seem to be the first in line.  The bill includes an increase in the state’s tax on diesel fuel, one the trucking industry has willingly accepted, according to Clowser.

“The West Virginia Trucking Association was a key component of the Blue Ribbon Commission and they were among the first to step forward and say this is a safety issue,” he said. “They said they want safe roads for their truckers and second it’s beating the heck out of their trucks, it’s an economic issue.”

The bill isn’t on the agenda to advance at the moment, but Clowser believed it would be moving by Sunday which is the deadline to get bills out of committee to get three full readings on the floor before next Wednesday’s crossover day.

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