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Blue Ribbon panel finalizing W.Va. highways recommendations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With the eight public hearings in the books, members of the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways are finalizing recommendations to present at their Sept. 4 meeting.

"I think you'll see a meaningful report that comes out on the 4th," Jason Pizatella, committee chairman and chief counsel to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said Thursday.

Pizatella said that while opinions and topics of discussion varied at each of the regional meetings, there was a common theme to all eight.

"That was that people care about their roads," he said. "They care about the types of funds that are used to build and maintain roads and bridges."

The least surprising lesson learned from the hearings, he said, is that there is little interest statewide for higher gasoline taxes to fund state roads. Most surprising was that tolls as a way to fund highways are not unpopular, even at hearings in Beckley and Princeton.

"We kind of assumed people in the Beckley and Princeton areas were really against tolls, and they weren't," said Jan Vineyard, chairwoman of the commission's Legislative and Public Outreach Committee.

"If there are going to be tolls, they want the money to be used wisely," she said. "That really opened our eyes."

Commissioners also got input on innovative ways to fund highways, including more public-private funding initiatives.

"The one thing we learned is that everybody wants good, safe highways," Vineyard said, "and everybody thinks we have to do things to improve our highway system."

She said commissioners also learned that people want a fair and equitable system for funding state roads.

"No one industry or group of constituents should have to pay for the brunt of it," she said.

Representatives of the Rahall Transportation Institute are transcribing comments from the public hearings, as well as results of live surveys using handheld voting devices conducted at each location, Pizatella said.

At the Sept. 4 meeting at the Capitol, commissioners hope to sign off on a draft of the report to be submitted to Tomblin by the end of the month, he said. That report will take a three-pronged approach to building and maintaining state roads: sources of revenue, innovative financing and efficiencies.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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