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Howard's Commentary - Imagine a West Virginia Where the Roads are Actually Good...

Perhaps the only thing West Virginians dislike more than higher taxes is the miserable condition of our road system.

And that could benefit Governor Jim Justice in his forward-thinking plan to undertake a massive infrastructure project creating 48,000 jobs, completing dozens of major highway projects, and injecting a major stimulus to economic growth with an improved transportation system that could attract new business and tourism.

The governor wants to do some creative thinking on highways funding, potentially raising license plate renewal fees from $30 to $50, increasing Turnpike tolls from $2 to $3 (although the governor wants to let West Virginians avoid the tolls with an E-ZPass) and seeking legal permission to expand what roads can be tolled, and raising the base tax on gasoline by 10 cents a gallon. (

I've talked with several diehard Republicans in recent weeks--just average citizens, not elected officials--and to a person they all have said they are opposed to higher taxes, BUT if increased gas taxes were guaranteed to mean better roads, they would bite that bullet and support the tax hike.

I think when folks get into elected office they became enamored with labels (Republican-Democrat, Liberal-Conservative, "Tax" or "Cut"). But for those of us in the real world, we look to results. Our roads are deplorable--FIX THEM. We'll pay a little more for that end result.

Businesses that are transportation-based, that have large fleets and big fuel costs, of course, would be harder hit but the long-term value of improved roads would mean their costs would eventually go down. It is a business investment.

The recently-released annual TRIP report gives the Governor more ammunition as it shows 9 bridges across I-70 in Ohio County are considered "structurally deficient" (the DOH says that doesn't necessarily mean "unsafe"). 62% of our major roads are poor or mediocre.

In addition to any safety concerns that raises, the report also shows it costs the average motorist over a $1,000 a year in actual out of pocket costs.

Driving on deficient roads costs each Wheeling area driver $1,315 per year in the form of extra vehicle operating costs (VOC) as a result of driving on roads in need of repair, lost time and fuel due to congestion-related delays, and the costs of traffic crashes in which roadway features likely were a contributing factor. The TRIP report calculates the cost to motorists of insufficient roads in the Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Parkersburg and Wheeling urban areas. A breakdown of the costs per motorist in each area along with a statewide total is below.

The TRIP report finds that 62 percent of major roads in the Wheeling urban area are in poor or mediocre condition, costing the average motorist an additional $720 each year in extra vehicle operating costs, including accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear. (WV Transportation By the Numbers)

The Governor has a hard sell in front of him.

  • Many in legislative leadership are dead set against any form of tax hike. Their game plan seems to be to cut government further, decrease services, allow roads to linger in disrepair, and cost our citizens cash because they have a philosophical dislike of government
  • Moodys recently downgraded our bond rating which means a more difficult time when a road bond issue has to go to the market
  • The legislature has to approve the gas tax hike (and related measures) to guarantee a payment source for bonds, then the bond proposal needs approval of state voters

The philosophy of "cut and wait" is a losers strategy. We just cower and hunker down, continuing to serve our citizens even less, and hope that some magic happens to bring our state alive again.

Governor Justice wants to move the state forward. Now. Take bold action. Think like winners do. Decide what we need and find a way to get it.

We need improved roads. Virtually every West Virginian agrees. The "Road Fairy" won't make it happen.. It's up to us to make it happen.

There is a political game being played in Charleston and we're all the pawns.

If you want better roads, call your legislators and let them know. Tell them you don't care if they wear a "D" or an "R". You're not interested in text book economics. You want results.

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