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Final road report matters

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox said Tuesday that he was not disappointed Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin failed to mention recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways in his State of the State address.

"They haven't issued the final report yet. I think that's what everyone's waiting on," Mattox said of the report of the governor's commission.

In his annual State of the DOH report to the Senate Transportation Committee, Mattox cited findings of the 31-member commission, made up of state and local officials, academics, contractors and union representatives, that was appointed by Tomblin in 2012.

That preliminary report concluded that in order to complete all new road construction projects, and to adequately maintain state roads, West Virginia would need to nearly double the state Road Fund from $1.1 billion a year to more than $2 billion.

"You essentially have to double the existing state Road Fund revenue to meet the needs the Blue Ribbon Commission has identified," Mattox said.

He said the problem facing Highways is that state Road Fund revenues -- primarily from gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, and sales and privilege taxes -- have been flat over the past decade, while road construction costs have gone up 30 to 35 percent.

"We can do one-third less than we could do 10 years ago," he said.

Overall, that means state roads are on less-than-ideal 28-year repaving cycles, he said. That ranges from Interstates, currently on nine-year paving cycles when six is preferred, to county roads, on 28-year cycles instead of the recommended 12 years.

"Somehow, someway, we're going to have to find additional revenues," Mattox said, adding, "The only way we're going to make any progress in these numbers, and these paving cycles, is to find additional resources to put toward these programs."

A key component of the Blue Ribbon Commission's proposals is a $1 billion road bond, to be paid off by retaining tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike through 2049.

Maddox stressed the importance of having a safe, modern, efficient state transportation system.

"Build a highway, and you're going to see economic development along that highway," he said.

Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, agreed, saying that completion of the King Coal and Coalfield Expressway highways may be "virtually the last chance southern and southwestern West Virginia has."

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


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