Lawmakers split on road bond plan; want to see more

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice’s highway construction plan includes nearly $3 billion in projects that the governor said Wednesday would create more than 25,000 jobs.

The work would be paid for with bonds financed by two key sources; $33 million a year gained by raising the annual vehicle registration fee from $30 to $50 and increasing the tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike by $1.00. Gov. Justice also proposes a 10-cent increase in the gasoline excise tax which is currently 20.5 cents a gallon and maximizing the Garvee bond option for highway work.

MORE See Justice road project list Phase 1

Sixteen specific highway projects along with dozens of other bridge and road safety improvements can be completed in the next 2-4 years, according to state Transportation Secretary Tom Smith. The Phase-1 work totals $1.4 billion.

Of the specific projects, the most expensive are the Interstate 64 widening project in Putnam County ($170m), which includes a new bridge across the Kanawha River near Nitro, and a four-lane highway in Wayne County from the Pritchard Intermodal Facility to I-64 near Huntington ($150m).

The Phase 1 projects cover 13 different counties. The Phase 2 projects total $1.5 billion covering projects more than a dozen counties. Monongalia County would receive funding for five separate projects according to the Phase 2 list.

MORE See Justice road project list Phase 2

Del. Marty Gearheart (R-Mercer) a long opponent of tolls on the Turnpike called the plan “ludicrous”

“It’s a basic fact of economics that the more you tax something the less activity you get,” Gearheart said. “So the more that you tax the highways the less the people are, in fact, going to want to travel on them.”

But Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) called Justice’s plan a “good idea” because residents will have a chance  to vote themselves on a bond issue that would be financed by the increased taxes and fees.

Senator Glenn Jeffries (D-Putnam), who owns a construction business, is pleased with what Justice said.

“It automatically puts people to work. It really excited me. I wanted to stand up and applaud him when he said 48,000 jobs. It is exciting and it’s an exciting time,” Jeffries said.

As mentioned, Monongalia County would benefit greatly from projects listed in both Phase 1 and Phase 2. Del. Joe Statler (R-Monongalia) said he believes residents would be willing to pay more for new roads.

“We can’t clearly buy our way out of this–it would take too long,” Statler said. “If we are going to set this state up for business we’ve got to do something big, something dramatic. A half-billion dollar bond or a billion dollar bond that he wants to go out there on roads, I can support it.”

The governor also mentioned a possible plan that would allow residents to pay an $8 annual fee to the DMV in order to drive for free on the West Virginia Turnpike.

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