CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Members of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Highways Commission aren't sure where they can find the money needed to repair state roads and bridges, but a significant portion likely will come from taxpayers' wallets.
West Virginia needs more than a half-billion dollars in yearly road funding just to maintain current conditions, according to a recently completed study by the engineering firm CDM Smith.
The state would need nearly $850 million more in yearly funding if the Division of Highways hopes to bring its roadways into full compliance.
The commission is expected to deliver its final report to Tomblin by July 1, including recommendations on ways to improve the state's infrastructure and ways to fund those improvements.
Commission members met on Tuesday to approve a list of potential tax increases and other ideas to increase road funding. Over the next month, the group will hold community meetings throughout the state to pitch these ideas to state residents.
Members do not expect it will be an easy sell.
"We've got to come up with the money some place, and the public is the only place that can cough the money up," said commission member Jan Vineyard, president of the state Oil Marketers and Grocers Association. "We're going to have to do one heck of a job to get people to say 'I'm going to re-elect Sen. Plymale and Sen. Beach even though they raised my taxes.'"
Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, and Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, are members of the commission.
Vineyard said members of the public would not accept tax increases unless they believe their money is actually being used to improve roads. She said state government must take a financial hit, too.
"It's got to be an approach where everybody feels some of that pain," she said.
The state currently budgets $709.3 million per year for construction and maintenance of its bridges and roads. But according to CDM Smith's study, West Virginia will need an additional $672.6 million per year in infrastructure spending just to maintain current conditions.