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W.Va. road conditions costing state drivers, report says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than a third of state roads are in poor to mediocre condition, and driving on those pothole-filled and rough roads costs state drivers $400 million a year -- or about $333 per person -- in increased vehicle repair and maintenance costs, a study released Thursday shows.

It found that 36 percent of state roads are in poor or mediocre condition, while 35 percent of bridges in the state need to be repaired, upgraded or replaced.

The report by national transportation research group TRIP was released as part of a rally in front of Senate chambers organized by West Virginians for Better Transportation, a coalition made up to a large extent by road-building contractors and construction unions.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and the House and Senate Transportation committee chairpersons addressed the crowd, many of whom were wearing reflective vests worn by road construction crews.

"We need economic development and that starts with highways," Senate Transportation Chairman Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, told the group.

He said the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways has proposed innovative ways to fund road construction and maintenance, but warned, "There are other legislators in this building who will oppose those ideas...You need to get those legislators -- you need to hold their feet to the fire."

In his State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin briefly mentioned construction of roads and bridges, but did not discuss or endorse any recommendations of his Blue Ribbon panel. That included its key recommendation, a $1 billion road bond issue, to be paid off by keeping tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike for another 30 years.

House Roads and Transportation Chairwoman Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, told the rally, "The one true function of our government is the building and maintenance of transportation and infrastructure."

Staggers said she will introduce a resolution this session to put a referendum for a $1.2 billion Road Bond amendment on the 2014 general election ballot.

Unlike the Blue Ribbon panel's recommendation, the resolution would require the Legislature to come up with new taxes to pay off the bonds.

Kessler, meanwhile, used the event as an opportunity to tout his proposal to set aside a portion of increased natural gas severance tax collections for a state Future Fund.

"We will have a nest egg adequate to fix our roads," he said. "It is the future of the state to make sure we have adequate roads and infrastructure."

The TRIP report covers many of the concerns raised by the Blue Ribbon panel regarding poor conditions of state roadways. That panel concluded that the state would need more than $1 billion a year of additional funding to fully build and maintain the state highways system.

"As West Virginia looks to retain its businesses, continue its level of economic competitiveness, and achieve further economic growth, the state will need to maintain and modernize its roads, highways and bridges," the TRIP report states. "Making needed improvements to West Virginia's roads, highways and bridges could also provide a significant boost to the state's economy by creating jobs in the short term and stimulating long-term economic growth as a result of enhanced mobility and access."

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


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