Road Maintenance from Marcellus Shale Drilling Concerns Delegates
The House Finance Committee met Wednesday to hear the budget requests from various agencies within the Department of Transportation. But one of the many concerns the Delegates had was the state of roads due to Marcellus Shale drilling.
In the House Finance Committee, the budget requests were led by Transportation Secretary, Paul Mattox.
Seven officials spoke on behalf of their agencies within the Department of Transportation, asking lawmakers to keep their funding at levels proposed in Governor Tomblin’s budget bill and avoid any additional cuts.
The Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles asked for additional funds to improve their IT infrastructure. Those overseeing airports, railroads, and public transportation were concerned with maintenance funding.
But after the budget requests were given to the committee, Delegates questioned the state’s ability to keep up with highway maintenance and road construction needs, particularly when it comes to the growing Marcellus Shale industry in the northern part of the state.
Delegate Dave Pethtel posed a question to Mattox about the state of roads in the Marcellus region.
“You know in Wetzel County we’ve had about nine years of Marcellus Shale drilling, and would you agree with me that arguably Wetzel County has the worst roads in the state?” asked Pethtel.
“I don’t know, I’m from Putnam County, and I can take you on some pretty bad roads in Putnam County,” said Mattox.
“I mean, I know we’ve had discussions before, I know you’ve traveled route 20, and I know Mr. Murphy’s traveled route 7, but I don’t see anything improving unless we get significantly more money. Is that a fair statement?” asked Pethtel.
“That’s a fair statement. We’re not gaining any ground whether…we’re only spending half as much cause that’s all we have available. That’s what we need to keep pace with the generation of the system.”
Money for the maintenance and construction of roads and highways across the state has its own account, known as the State Road Fund. This year, that fund is doing better than previous years.
But even with the increase in funds, Mattox says the paving cycle remains too high, not just for the back roads in the Marcellus shale region, but for the major highways across the state.
Delegate Paul Espinosa of Jefferson County questioned a new revenue systems states like Virginia are trying, moving away from a traditional gasoline tax.
“As you’re well aware other states have transitioned or have begun to transition to sales tax based funding for their transportation systems," said Espinosa, "How extensively has your department looked at perhaps those state’s transitions and you know while I’ve heard anecdotally what that might translate too if we were to move into that as far as our sales tax, the necessary sales tax increase. How extensively have you looked at that? I would appreciate your comments as far as feasibility.”
“We have looked at it," Mattox replied, "Of course the state of Virginia took the lead in creating more revenue for their state road fund by applying a sales tax. I believe it’s something that West Virginia should take a look at. The Blue Ribbon Commission has looked at it, and I believe a 1% increase in the sales tax here in West Virginia. Instead of generating the 1.2 billion or so same sales tax generated in Virginia, it would generate about $220 million for the state road fund in West Virginia if it was all dedicated to the state road fund.”
The Blue Ribbon Commission Mattox refers to is a group the governor compiled in 2012 to study the funding of the state’s highways. While their final report and recommendations have not yet been released, the group said as much as a billion dollars is needed by the state each year to just maintain the current road system.
Mattox didn’t say whether the sales tax was a better or worse way to fund West Virginia roads, but told the committee it was worth looking into further.