Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin knows West Virginia roads and bridges need attention, but he and legislators are also well aware that funding for the purpose could be hard to come by.
Tomblin mentioned design-build highway contracts and public/private partnerships for road construction in his recent State of the State address, but he is also waiting for a report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways that may identify other long-term funding sources.
Lawmakers will not be able to please everyone, and may have to look to other states for inspiration. For example, a driver who enters the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Pittsburgh and exits in Harrisburg will pay $20.75. A driver who takes the entire length of the West Virginia Turnpike and even manages to swing through the North Beckley toll plaza on U.S. 19 will pay $6.40.
Meanwhile, according to a national transportation research organization, one-third of West Virginia's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. One-third of bridges show significant deterioration or do not meet current design standards. The report noted West Virginia has the second highest traffic fatality rate in the country - though it is unclear how many of those deaths can be attributed to road conditions. Even if crumbling roads and bridges cause only one death, it is too many.
Financial damage to our drivers is more easily measurable. Tire wear, increased fuel consumption and other repairs cost $400 million total statewide.
Imagine if drivers understood the problem in terms of funding bond issues now, instead of paying hundreds of millions in maintenance and repairs later. Such a bond could be financed, at least in part, by retaining the W.Va. Turnpike toll that is scheduled to be lifted during the next few years.
Already this fall and winter our roads and bridges have seen saturating rains, deep freezes, tons of salt and cinders, and another year of heavier truck traffic brought by the natural gas industry. Road crews will be faced with quite a mess in the spring.
Debate over road funding has made it clear there is no easy way out of the dilemma. But the longer it remains simmering on a back burner, the more deterioration occurs on West Virginia roads and bridges. Sometime soon, then, Tomblin should bite the bullet and propose a way to address the problem.