We must speak up for state's transportation system - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

We must speak up for state's transportation system

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    Robert N. Hart
    Robert N. Hart

Carol Fulks is chairman of West Virginians for Better Transportation, a coalition that aims to educate West Virginians about the importance of maintaining a safe and modern transportation infrastructure. The coalition includes more than 300 organizations, groups, government leaders and companies that recognize and value the importance of safe, good roads, bridges and highways. For information, please go to www.keepwvmoving.org.

West Virginia's citizens – homeowners, business people, school bus drivers, doctors, miners, truck drivers, farmers, etc. – will have an opportunity in the coming weeks to provide their views about what should be done to maintain West Virginia's extensive network of roads, bridges and highways. The opportunity will be a series of nine public meetings that will be hosted by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.  A listing of these meetings is found here: www.wvbrc.org.

The commission, which is composed of representatives from a wide range of groups and organizations, has been meeting over the past year to examine the current condition of our state's transportation infrastructure, develop a long-term plan of action and, if necessary, outline possible new revenue sources. 

The commission's study is being driven by the fact that West Virginia's transportation infrastructure is reaching a crisis stage. The primary sources of funds for West Virginia's transportation system are no longer keeping up with the needs.  These funding sources are:

 

  • State gasoline taxes, which are paid when someone fills up his or her gas tank (as a part of the total price of a gallon of gasoline/diesel);
  • Federal highway funding, which is allocated to states based on federal gasoline taxes (again a part of the total price of a gallon of gasoline/diesel);
  • Taxes paid on the purchase of a vehicle and fees on driver's licenses.

 

While many people think they are paying a lot of money to support transportation, the reality is that the average driver spends about $1 a day to support West Virginia's transportation system – roads, bridges, highways, snow removal, paving, etc.

And some people incorrectly think that funding for roads, bridges and highways also comes from the state's budget or from counties. Not so. That is how it is done in many other states, but not here in West Virginia.

When it comes to transportation, West Virginia has a few other differences from most other states. The West Virginia Division of Highways has one of the largest consolidated transportation systems to maintain. The WVDOH has statutory authority for the construction, improvement and maintenance of nearly all public highway miles (approximately 36,000 or 93 percent) in the state, which is among one of the highest percentages in the nation. And, despite West Virginia's relatively small size, the WVDOH is responsible for the sixth-largest state maintained highway network in the nation. West Virginia is one of only four states in which there is no county financial support for roads, bridges and highways. Delaware, North Carolina and Virginia are the others.

So, we have stagnant or declining revenue sources, a highly centralized and extensive transportation network and unmet needs for improvements and new construction. Further worsening this situation is the fact that the purchasing power of the Road Fund has been cut by 30-plus percent over the past decade due to higher prices for steel, concrete, asphalt, etc. 

All of this adds up to a challenging problem not only for our elected leaders but also for every person who relies on our transportation system.  Bad roads also can result in other unwanted expenses.  A national group found that driving on roads in need of repair costs the average West Virginia motorist nearly $230 a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs.

Most of us can appreciate the fact that transportation is essential and a vital foundation for the state's economy. Thousands and thousands of jobs depend on a modern transportation system. Well-maintained roads and bridges also are needed to provide the public with a safe, convenient way to get to and from schools, the doctor's office, hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, etc.  And a good transportation system is essential for economic development and business preservation. 

West Virginia has made tremendous strides and has invested heavily over the past 30 years to improve its transportation system.  However, that same system is facing a crossroads.  If nothing is done soon, our great system of roads, bridges and highways will start to deteriorate rapidly.

As a broad-based coalition of groups, organizations, civic groups and businesses, West Virginians for Better Transportation is supportive of a long-term plan to address the state's transportation challenges.  We also recognize that the fix won't be easy, cheap or fast.  WVBT urges West Virginia's leaders to keep an open mind, understand the facts and consider all available options, including innovative ideas, to stabilize and sustain the state's transportation infrastructure for the long-term.

We must sustain our state's great transportation system that has helped open up and revolutionize West Virginia.  Now is the time to focus on this important matter and to come together to find a workable, long-term solution.