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U.S. 35 is emblematic of our frustration

ANYONE who is confused about why the American people are so upset these days with their government should take a drive along U.S. 35 from Interstate 64 to the Ohio River.

The road shows a government that cannot deliver a quality product in a reasonable time.

The trip begins promising with a nice four-lane roller coaster ride up and down the hills of Putnam County.

Whee.

There is plenty of room between the two lanes in each direction and with limited access interchanges along the way.

But after a dozen or so miles, the situation becomes harrowing.

Drivers have to click off cruise control as they decompress from modern interstate driving.

The curves are pretty tight as the road deposits cars at the foot of the Buffalo bridge over the Great Kanawha River.

Then things get worse.

West of that intersection, the modern highway transforms into a two-lane blacktop where hay wagons compete with tractor-trailers for space.

Add in an early morning fog or an afternoon drizzle and you have one of the flattest and yet one of the most dangerous roadways in West Virginia.

The signs may say U.S. 35 but the reality is this is merely part of W.Va. 817, which east of the bridge is a nice quiet state highway that connects Winfield with St. Albans via the John Amos plant.

The biggest threat to drivers is the occasional suicidal deer who leaps from the woods and attacks a car.

Highways officials are not to blame for the U.S. 35 mess.

If they had their way, U.S. 35 would be one fun roller coaster ride all the way to Point Pleasant where a bridge would await drivers to take them on to Ohio.  

But the appropriators of state money decided the money is not there.

On Monday, the Gazette reported on the state's alternative proposals for funding construction, including borrowing money through a bond.

In short, the road will not be built any time soon.

How different from three years ago, when officials declared the project a near emergency.

In 2010, the West Virginia Division of Highways wanted to place a toll on the road to pay for completing its construction.

The county commissions in both counties quickly signed on because finishing U.S. 35 is that important.

However, the public hated the idea.

Citizens wondered why they would have to pay a toll in perpetuity after paying more than 50 cents per gallon in state and federal taxes for highways.

The state built other roads without a toll, including Corridor G.

The people stood tall on this one and within two years, the toll was gone and Mason County elected its first delegate in the Legislature in 20 years.

In fact, Mason wound up with two delegates as logger Jim Butler and trucker Scott Cadle decided enough was enough and ran for office representing parts of Mason and Putnam counties.

Their victories showed people in Mason County are so desperate for real representation in Charleston that they are willing to vote Republican.

Even the state Supreme Court weighed in, deciding that yes, Mason County commissioners could rescind their official support of the tolls.

U.S. 35 is an example of the frustration of taxpayers, who pay more than $4 billion each year in state taxes - and still the people cannot get a road replaced after nearly 50 years.

The priorities of the government are not the same as the governed.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is good with money, but his primary budgetary concern last year was finding another $150 million for Medicaid, a $2.5 billion a year program.

If the state froze Medicaid at current spending levels for just two years, the money would be there to finish U.S. 35.

But this is a federal road.

Why cannot a federal government that spends $3.5 trillion a year come up with $250 million to finish the road?

That would be 0.007 percent of one year's federal expenditures.

But the president and Congress, and the governor and the Legislature have priorities other than providing safe roads.

This is why people are so frustrated.

Surber is an editorial writer. His email is DonSurber@DailyMail.com.


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