“Take me home, country roads.”
This song by the late country legend John Denver is a source of pride for every born and raised West Virginian. It elicits fond memories of scenic drives during the various seasons among these West Virginia hills. From rhododendron blooming in the spring to deer grazing in the fields during summer to God’s majestic masterpieces of red, gold, brown and yellow in the fall, driving a two-lane state highway in the Mountain State is a memorable experience.
Unfortunately, over the past decade, we have seen our state’s highways and byways fall into a state of disrepair. Oh sure, West Virginia’s interstate and corridor system are first-rate and superior in many ways to what you will find in most surrounding states — especially Pennsylvania — but once you get off these main arteries, things are starting to get out of hand pretty quickly.
Due to our historically centralized form of state government — where everything from highways to local schools and even municipal government authority has been controlled by bureaucrats and politicians in Charleston — it is evident that the responsibility and cost of maintenance and construction of new roads and bridges has grown bigger than the state can handle.
The state of West Virginia maintains more highway miles than any other state in the nation. Tens of thousands of miles of secondary roads and former “orphan” roads as well as thousands of bridges have become a complex liability that if dealt with properly would have erased every budget surplus enjoyed over the past six years.
The “orphan” road program adopted by the late Gov. Underwood only served to exasperate the problem, adding hundreds if not thousands of miles of what was previously considered to be private roads located in subdivisions and housing developments in unincorporated areas of our state. To make matters worse, the cost of construction material — asphalt, concrete and steel — has increased dramatically, in many cases reducing the number of miles that normal road paving funds would cover by as much as one-third. Compound that fact with a reduction of federal highway funding and declines in what has historically been the state’s primary road funding mechanism — the gas tax — and the West Virginia Department of Transportation is faced with the “perfect storm.” The trend of newer cars continuing to get better and better gas mileage and a national and world economy that continues to remain in the doldrums has resulted in a shortage of needed funds.
During the 2011 legislative session, state Sen. Bob Beach co-authored a bill that would have drastically increased fees related to the Department of Transportation — driver’s license fees, license renewals, state inspections, etc. This bill passed both the House and Senate but fell victim to Gov. Tomblin’s veto as state residents protested loudly about what equated to a $40 million increase in fees (read: taxes).
That’s why this past week, Tomblin said it was time to do something about it. By executive order he formed the West Virginia Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.
Tomblin hopes the group can come up with new funding sources for transportation projects.
West Virginia Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox says the state receives about $1 billion in funding for road projects from the federal government each year. That’s the same amount they were getting back in 1991. Mattox added that considering inflation, that money doesn’t go nearly as far as it did 20 years ago.
“Currently we’re on about a 24-year paving cycle. We would like to be on a 12-year paving cycle,” Mattox stated.
Mattox says every $1 billion the state spends on transportation projects results in the employment of about 25,000 West Virginians. So there you have it: More and better roads and bridges as well as new construction jobs for West Virginians. The question is how much will it cost and how do you pay for it?
We applaud Gov. Tomblin for appointing the blue-ribbon committee in an attempt to address this critical need. The trick will be: How do you accomplish this without raising fees and/or taxes? Only time will tell.
“Take me home, country roads.”
Three Rivers Festival offers chance for city to celebrate
What were you doing 34 years ago?
That was when the West Virginia Three Rivers Festival was born.
It didn’t start out as the Three Rivers Festival. It actually started over Labor Day weekend in 1980 and it was called Septemberfest.
Seizure of AP phone records is an insult to an independent press
Distrust of government secrecy has been elevated to an exceptional level with the disclosure the Justice Department covertly examined two months of Associated Press phone records to determine who leaked details to the AP about a foiled terrorist plot.
We change — at least a little — after each attack
How well do we remember the world as it was before 9/11?
Do we remember what airline security was like? Life before the Patriot Act? What was the school environment like before school shooting at Columbine and Sandy Hook?
Record-breaking years for Pierpont, FSU give students strong opportunities
When people make the decision to further their education — whether they’re going to college immediately after high school or heading back to the classroom after several years of being in the workforce — there are plenty of potential obstacles to consider.
Sound policy would give coal a chance, not erase challenges
It’s no secret that the region’s coal industry faces challenges from many sides.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration, through a report it began releasing last month, forecast that although total U.S. coal production is expected to rise after 2016, Appalachian coal will not.
Peace Officers Memorial Day: Honoring those who keep us safe
Today, all U.S. and West Virginia state flags will be lowered to half staff in memory of the officers who died in the line of duty, making this state and this country a safer place to live, for Peace Officers Memorial Day.
Each and every day should be Mother’s Day
Anna Jarvis, from our neighboring city of Grafton, began the tradition that on the second Sunday of May, mothers and motherhood would receive a national celebration and recognition.
From those early local beginnings, Mother’s Day has evolved and become one of the most celebrated days of the year.
Teens need co-pilots to navigate social media
It’s tough to be the parent of a teen.
Heck, it’s tough to be the parent of a preteen. Ten is the new 15 these days. Fifteen is the new 21. Kids grow up so fast, and we have to fight them every step of the way to make sure they’re not growing up too fast. It’s a constant question of whether something is age-appropriate and the constant response of “all of my other friends are doing it.”
Proposed bill levels playing field for local businesses
The study of economics is vast, complicated and debatable on almost every point.
There are those who are conservative in their estimates when given all factors to calculate into a model.
Move past baloney and continue quest to ensure students get meals they need
It’s time to move past the baloney ... or bologna ... or lack of same at school lunch.
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