WV House committee passes Tomblin's public-private partnership b - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV House committee passes Tomblin's public-private partnership bill

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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bill to allow public-private partnerships finance road construction has passed the House Roads and Transportation Committee.

Members voted April 4 to move the bill, which would allow private entities to fund the construction of major roads and bridges across the state and allow public-private partnership projects to use money from the State Road Fund when the project is in excess of $20 million, among other provisions. Though Senate Bill 190 is supported by Tomblin and passed the Senate unanimously, some delegates had a few issues with the bill.

First, Delegate Scott Cadle, R-Mason, said he heard of a case in Indiana where a company entered into a public-private partnership with the state and bought a toll road. The company then proceeded to raise tolls on that road. Cadle found that particularly disheartening in part because constituents in his county had to fight against tolls being placed on Route 35 so construction on the road could be completed.

But committee counsel pointed out the bill allows public-private partnership only for development and construction. Toll roads are not addressed in the bill. Paul Mattox, secretary of transportation and commissioner of highways, said the Division of Highways does not foresee tolls being an issue in the long run. But, like with anything else, funding for the roads would be determined through negotiations between the state and the private entity.

Mattox said he is unsure what those negotiations look like because the state has not entered into a single public-private partnership since 2007, when the program was authorized.

"We certainly would do our homework, possibly get some outside help to help us negotiate … but we certainly would be looking at other arrears in state government to help with those negotiations," Mattox said. "I think the original public-private partnerships legislation was in 2007 or there about and we have not had anybody come to us. We have no experience with it."

The bill passed committee, with Cadle being the only delegate voting against the motion. The bill still has one hurdle to clear, the House Finance Committee, before being passed to the House floor for a vote.