West Virginia lawmakers on the lookout for road funds

| 10/19/2006

A West Virginia state legislative subcommittee met this week to brainstorm new ways to raise money for road and bridge work. Large trucks were mentioned as an ideal source for added revenues.

Escalating costs for highway construction and dwindling sources for traditional state road funds have left lawmakers to search far and wide for answers.

A report from the West Virginia Division of Highways shows that the state must come up with innovative ways to fund highway construction.

Financial estimates indicate the state will need at least $20 billion during the next 20 years to complete the 170 road projects the agency has on the books. The state has enough funding to complete about 8 percent of the work.

To help counter funding shortages, Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, suggested sending all profits from table gaming at the state's racetracks to the state's road fund, The Charleston Gazette reported.

Delegate Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, proposed sending a portion of severance taxes to roads in coal-producing counties.

The 5 percent motor vehicle privilege tax accounts more than $155 million annually for roads in the state.

Other funding sources mentioned include privatization of the West Virginia Turnpike and adopting a similar test program used in Oregon to charge drivers for road use by the mile instead of the by the gallon.

Collecting additional user fees for hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles also could be tapped to offset the decline in fuel tax collections, The Gazette reported.

The director of the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Tom Witt, said the ideal road user fee would rely on such vehicles as large trucks. He said the fee should be based on the vehicle's weight, mileage traveled and number of axles.

With a special session scheduled for next month, some proposals are expected to advance to the full Finance Committee for consideration.