Delegate proposes $1.2 billion transportation bond bill
Delegate Margaret Staggers announced plans Thursday to introduce a bill that would call for a constitutional amendment to put a $1.2 billion transportation bond on the ballot in November.
Staggers, D-Fayette, is chairwoman of the Roads and Transportation Committee of the House of Delegates. She made the announcement after a grim report on the state of West Virginia's transportation infrastructure.
One-third of West Virginia's locally and state-maintained roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and one third of West Virginia's bridges show significant deterioration or do not meet current design standards, according to a new report from TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research group.
Carolyn Bonifas Kelly, associate director of research and communication for TRIP, said West Virginia's rate of 1.78 fatalities per 100 million miles of travel in 2011 is the second-highest in the nation, behind Montana.
"We looked at all those numbers and came to the conclusion that in West Virginia, those all can be addressed by increasing infrastructure spending to keep the roads safe, most importantly, but also smooth and efficient so that business and commerce can flow through the state," Kelly said.
Staggers' announcement was met by a round of applause by about 200 transportation advocates, mostly clad in fluorescent safety vests, who packed the Capitol Rotunda for the event.
"This would be a bill to have a constitutional amendment, and the constitutional amendment would be on the ballot, and it would ask for a $1.2 billion road bond," Staggers explained. "As (Transportation Secretary Paul) Mattox told us last year, this would take care of the roads that are actually falling apart and get us to a place where we can start really improving the roads."
The TRIP report found that 12 percent of West Virginia's roads have pavement in poor condition; in downtown Charleston, that figure for locally and state-maintained roads jumps to 15 percent. It also estimated driving on rough roads cost the average West Virginia motorist an extra $333 in vehicle operating costs - an extra $400 million annually among all West Virginia motorists.
"West Virginia finds itself in a position that many other states are finding themselves in where the rate of the deterioration of the roads far outpaces the amount of funding available to fix them, so they are becoming increasingly deteriorated and congested, and there are safety issues that come along with that," Kelly said.
Senate president Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said the state of West Virginia's highways is deteriorating because of a decrease in gas tax revenue and the sheer amount of money it takes to maintain West Virginia's nearly 36,000 miles of state-owned roads.
"We need to make a concerted effort on a sustained basis over a period of time to make sure we bring those roads up to adequate conditions and we improve them," Kessler said.
Kessler said he will introduce a bill this legislative session that would establish a "future fund," which would put away some of the money from the Marcellus shale gas boom for future highway repairs.
"One of the problems we have, and the reasons we can't fix it now, is we don't have the money," Kessler said. "For the future, we will have a nest egg adequate to fix our roads."
Staggers said if West Virginians voted for the proposed bond, the effects of new and repaired roads would ripple through the economy.
"The main thing that opened West Virginia was our beautiful interstates," Staggers said. "You've got all these magnificent arteries that go through West Virginia, and you can follow the economic development right along them."
Contact writer Marcus Constantino at email@example.com or 304-348-1796. Follow him on Twitter at @amtino.