Road bond issue discussed at Wood County Commission meeting

Photo by Brett Dunlap Bob Ashley, Gov. Jim Justice’s legislative director; Rusty Roten, West Virginia Division of Highways District 3 engineer, and Dave Burris, maintenance engineer for DOH District 3, discussed road projects with the Wood County Commission Thursday.

PARKERSBURG — State officials said the special road bond issue people will be voting on will have many benefits for the state and Wood County.

Rusty Roten, West Virginia Division of Highways District 3 engineer; Dave Burris, maintenance engineer for WVDOH District 3, and Bob Ashley, Gov. Jim Justice’s legislative director, met with the Wood County Commission Thursday to discuss the “Roads to Prosperity Constitutional Amendment.”

The special election for the measure will be Oct. 7. Early voting on the measure opens today and runs through Oct. 4.

“Everyone agrees, we have a road problem,” Ashley said. Ashley is a former delegate from Roane County and served Wood County as a state senator for one session.

“(The governor) believes West Virginians deserve better roads to drive on,” Ashley said. “That is why the aggressive program to deal with the roads was brought out.”

Over the last several years, money to address road maintenance and construction has gone down in the state. State officials are looking for approval to sell bonds to finance new road work.

The vote is asking for approval of the sale of $1.6 billion in bonds over four years for road improvement projects across the state.

This will include road repair, new road construction and finishing projects at various points in their development. The governor is looking for tax revenue to invest in the bonds to be leveraged into money to do the work.

The money to be leveraged would come from increases to the state’s annual vehicle registration fee from $30 to $50, raising West Virginia’s gasoline tax 3.3 percent and allowing residents the option of paying a yearly $8 flat fee to drive on the state’s toll roads, which is estimated to raise $132 million a year.

All of the work being proposed is expected to create 48,000 new jobs, state officials said.

Officials said the funding means are in place and will not raise taxes.

Wood County has 23 projects, totaling $75.7 million, under the Roads to Prosperity Highway Program. Pleasants has seven projects ($5.6 million), Jackson has 22 projects ($57.8 million), Wirt has 10 projects ($10 million), Ritchie has 10 projects ($10.3 million), Roane has 15 projects ($58.8 million) and Doddridge has 12 projects ($6.4 million).

Projects for Wood County include widening to four lanes W.Va. 14 from Pettyville to downtown Parkersburg, widening W.Va. 2, bridge replacements, bridge rehabilitation and road rehabilitation and resurfacing.

Commissioner Jimmy Colombo said the W.Va. 14 work would help open up an area that is being primed for development.

“That is where the development will be very shortly,” he said.

The last time the state did a general obligation bond was in 1996 and those will be paid off this fiscal year.

“Right now with selling bonds, the interest rate is the best it will ever be,” Ashley said. “The construction inflation isn’t as bad now as it has been in the past because there has not been a lot of construction.”

If the bond measure passes, officials said, federal money could become available to help fund individual projects as the Trump administration has taken an interest in West Virginia. However, the state has to show it is willing to do the work to get things underway, officials added.

Roten said projects around the state would be bidded out over a four-year period.

If the bond does not pass, the DOH will have to divert maintenance and preservation dollars to new construction projects, which will slow down progress on projects, Roten said. Road conditions throughout the state will continue to deteriorate, he said.