West Virginia Legislature OKs public-private partnerships for new roads

| 3/13/2008

A bill on its way to West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin’s desk is intended to open the door to public-private partnerships in the state.

Senate lawmakers waited until the last day of the regular session to approve the bill, which would allow private developers to build and collect tolls on future highways throughout the state. Private groups also would be allowed to mine coal at project sites.

The Senate action clears the way for the bill – HB4476 – to move to the governor’s desk. The House previously approved it.

The final version of the bill also would require the state Legislature and governor to green light any toll projects. That protection doesn’t ease concerns from people opposed to allowing private investors to run roadways. They also say adding tolls to highways in the state would devastate business and tourism in area regions.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, highlighted the effect that tolls would have on truckers. He said that truck drivers not only would be required to pay a toll to use a road they need for business purposes, but also must pay fuel taxes.

“It’s a system of double taxation,” he told The Register-Herald.

Toll supporters were unmoved. They say all avenues for transportation funding must be considered because road funds continue to erode. They also cite the fact that West Virginia is one of only four states where county governments do not help cover the costs of state-maintained roads.

Others say the agreements with private business to operate roadways would be temporary. The state eventually would take control of affected highways, they say.

Another provision in the bill would mandate that only the state’s Division of Highways could condemn property for public-private road projects.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor