West Virginia officials fret over road dollars

| 8/1/2008

In order to cope with a shortage in funds available for road work and higher expenses for construction materials, West Virginia’s Division of Highways is focusing more on road maintenance instead of road building. One solution being touted won’t make truckers too happy and that is tolling roads that feed into the West Virginia Turnpike.

State Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox told an interim legislative panel the state will be forced to make do with reduced revenue from the state’s fuel tax. The tax is the major component of the state’s road fund.

Mattox cited a projection that fuel tax revenue will slowly decline as prices at the pump contribute to fewer miles traveled. More fuel-efficient vehicles also are expected to result in less tax revenue.

The road fund is projected to decline from $660 million in the current budget year to $648 million in four years, the Charleston Daily Mail reported.

To make matters worse, Mattox told lawmakers that federal road funds are projected to drop by about $25 million to $325 million in the current budget year. That decline could be worse if Congress and President Bush don’t authorize a $3.2 billion bailout to offset deficits caused by spending that is growing faster than revenue.

Without the needed help, federal funding to the state is expected to be reduced by $119 million to $206 million in the next fiscal year – a 34 percent decrease.

Part of the blame for the limited funding available for roads is placed on road-building materials that have jumped 71 percent during the past five years. The cost of asphalt is up nearly 82 percent while cement has risen by 40 percent.

Senate Majority Whip Billy Wayne Bailey, D-Wyoming, said he has an idea that would help ease the state’s burden for how to pay for road work. He would like to charge drivers to access major roads that feed into the state’s Turnpike.

Adding tolls to other roads is the same approach that other states are looking into to address shortages of road funds, Bailey told The Register-Herald.

To view other legislative activities of interest for West Virginia in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor