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Bill Would Give Counties Option to Fund Road Construction

Janet Kunicki
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In a Senate Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday, Senators were presented with one possible solution for the lack of funding for state roads, one that would allow counties to be more involved in the construction and maintenance process.

Senate Bill 258 is also known as the “Letting Our Counties Act Locally Act” and comes as the result of two years of work from stakeholders in Monongalia County.

With aging roads and bridges that are becoming more and more difficult financially to maintain, members of county and city government teamed up with the local chamber of commerce and West Virginia University to find a solution.

Senate Bill 258 permits counties to create their own road improvement or expansion plans and fund them through a one percent sales and use tax.

“This does not create a tax,” Billy Atkins, Vice Chair of the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce, told the committee. “It merely enables counties that are so inclined and have the need to take the steps necessary to try to improve their roads.”

The sales and use tax is collected at the state level and placed in a county specific account in the state road fund.

“Based upon some preliminary numbers, it would make a substantial impact on out transportation needs that we’ve identified in Mon County, but if it were applied across the state in every county, it could provide as much funding as $2 billion for highway construction,” Jason Donahue, a member of the Morgantown Chamber, told the committee.

The governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, compiled in 2012 to study road funding issues, said West Virginia needs about $1 billion each year to maintain its current statewide highway system.

In Mon County, they’re predicting the bill could raise $70 million over 30 years, according to preliminary findings from West Virginia University Economics Professor Emeritus Tom Witt. Witt said that income could also mean as many as 910 new jobs in West Virginia.

Sen. Bob Beach of Mon County said while any county may participate in the program, it’s not necessarily ideal for small, rural areas.

“Not all counties actually have to adopt this language,” he said Tuesday, "but Mon County will be a perfect fit."

"I think it would work for Harrison County as well and right on down the interstate to Kanawha County, Cabell County and have that growth and need to address the transportation problems they have.”

The committee approved the bill and moved it on to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

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