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Candidates suggest public-private partnerships for U.S. 35

By Whitney Burdette, Capitol reporter

Some candidates running for the House of Delegates in the 13th and 15th districts said they wouldn’t oppose public-private partnerships to fund the completion of U.S. 35.

The road has been a bone of contention for residents of Putnam and Mason counties for several years. Portions of the road have been expanded to four-lanes, but a 14-mile gap remains unfinished because the state lacks money to complete it. The idea of tolls was tossed around, but Mason County officials oppose that move, saying the tolls would be a burden on residents.

House of Delegates candidates attended a meeting Tuesday with the Daily Mail editorial staff. Republicans running in the 13th district who attended the meeting include Tim Gibson, Michael Ihle and incumbent Scott Cadle. Democrat Josh Martin also attended. Duke Jordan, a Republican, was the only candidate from the 15th district to attend the meeting.

Jordan, who sits on the Putnam County Planning Commission Board and the Putnam County Board of Zoning and Appeals, was the first to suggest the public-private partnerships.

“I think there are places we need to check as far as public-private fund marriages out there we need to look for,” Jordan said. “I don’t think we should throw that toll completely off the table. I think there are places we need to check.”

Martin said infrastructure funding is a tricky issue. He said he has a love-hate relationship with U.S. 35 because he does see the need to finish the road in order to bring jobs and business to the area, but he would also like to see W.Va. 62 upgraded.

“I want the citizens of our state to have safe roads, safe roads that are also economic highways that bring in jobs, bring in money,” he said. “A four-lane highway does that. They’re safer, they bring in more economic development and that’s all well and good.”

Martin noted the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, which identified $1 billion in infrastructure needs across the state. Public-private partnerships could work, he said, but the terms of those partnerships need to be favorable to the entities involved and not hamstring development.

Gibson said the state needs to think outside of the box when it comes to funding highway needs. Potential funding sources could include corporate sponsorships or reforming the tax code to repurpose funds for highway use.

“I look for the private sector to start being innovative and thinking more,” he said. “Whether it’s sponsorship for roads, that could be a possibility, or having State Farm sponsor our highway courtesy patrols — we have to be innovative. We have to think outside the box.”

Gibson said state officials need to stop thinking they can tax the state out of problems. People are taxed enough already, he said.

Cadle is from Mason County. He said it’s important to have all of the roads in the area upgraded to bring in potential business investments.

“Mason County, Putnam County and Jackson County have some of the best industrial sites in the whole state,” he said. “We have rail, river, now we need a good highway. Route 35, there is already a plan in place. The funding is there, everything. All we need is the governor to put his name on the paper.”

The current funding plan, Cadle said, would cost the state about $1 million and the federal government would pick up the rest. The road would be finished in four years. A public-private partnership would eliminate the chained order, Cadle said, which runs up the cost on a lot of infrastructure projects.

Cadle also noted the safety factor. U.S. 35 is the site of many fatal car crashes, including one involving a friend of his.

“35 could be finished if the governor would sign a paper,” Cadle said. “I lost a friend down there a few weeks ago on his tractor. 35 is important to me.”

Ihle currently serves as the mayor of Ravenswood. He said the harsh winter has revealed many problems with the state’s infrastructure, particularly highways, and he wants to see a “straightforward, sincere commitment” from policymakers to address the issues.

“I think that if the Route 35 situation was in Charleston, it would have already been taken care of,” he said. “It would have happened a long time ago because that’s something all the policymakers from all over the state see as they’re driving to work. But it’s not. What this takes is a straightforward, sincere commitment from policymakers in the budget process to committing money, making it a priority to make this happen.”

Rosalee Juba-Plumley, a Democrat in the 13th district, couldn’t attend the meeting because of health reasons. She said expanding the road to four-lanes would open the area to economic development.

“It does make a huge difference,” she said in a telephone conversation with the Daily Mail editorial staff.

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.


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