CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Call me a cynic, but I don't have great expectations that the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways' nine-city road trip to elicit suggestions for how to close a $600 million-plus gap in the state Road Fund is going to be productive.
I suspect the common refrain from the public will be, "We want good roads, but we don't want to pay higher taxes or fees to get them."
Brenda Nichols Harper, the state Chamber of Commerce's representative on the commission, makes a good point that regardless of whether it's $600 million a year of new revenue to adequately maintain existing roadways, or $1.23 billion to complete and maintain the state's road system, there's no way taxpayers can absorb those types of tax hikes.
Ballpark, they're talking about 10 percent increases in tax burdens.
Harper noted the commission's focus has been on ways to raise adequate revenues for the state Road Fund, but virtually nothing about transportation alternatives.
For instance, she said, commuter rail could be a viable alternative to alleviate traffic congestion on Interstate 64 between Charleston and Huntington, and, potentially, between Morgantown and Clarksburg on Interstate 79.
Speaking of bad roads, when 40,000 Boy Scouts descend on the Summit Bechtel Scout Reserve later this month for the 2013 Jamboree, they will be arriving by car, plane or bus -- but relatively few by train, even though the Amtrak station in Prince is less than 10 miles from the scout camp.
The new issue of Trains magazine explains why: Part of the problem is that the Cardinal only runs three days a week, meaning Scouts traveling by train would have to either arrive a day early or two days late for the jamboree. Trains notes that an Amtrak spokesman indicated there were no discussions with the BSA about adding special runs to arrive on July 15.
However, the major drawback is that the Pugh Memorial Bridge over the New River on W.Va. 41 just outside of Prince is one of the state's more structurally deficient bridges, with a 3-ton weight limit -- meaning it can't handle commercial buses. (In fact, Scouts are being advised that if they travel by rail, there will be no shuttle service available to the Scout Reserve.)
The article concludes: "Perhaps by 2017, the next time a jamboree takes place there, the bridge will be rebuilt and the Cardinal will be running every day." (From your keyboard to the rail gods' ears.)
Department of Transportation spokesman Brent Walker said plans for a replacement bridge are in the design stage, with hopes that it will go out to bid next spring. That would mean about 11/2 to 2 years to project completion.
I suspect when everyone is dealing with traffic headaches in greater Fayette County for the jamboree, they're going to wish that a couple thousand Scouts had arrived by train.