Gov. Joe Manchin recently signed a bill into law that is intended to open the door to public-private partnerships in West Virginia.
The new law, previously HB4476, allows private developers to build and collect tolls on future highways throughout the state. The private groups also would be allowed to mine coal at project sites before they built roads there.
The state legislature and governor would be required to give the green light before any toll projects could begin. That protection doesn’t ease concerns from people opposed to allowing private investors to run roadways. They 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 not only would truck drivers be required to pay a toll to use a road they need for business purposes, but they 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 mandates 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 in 2008, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor