Plans to fund West Virginia U.S. 35 offered

| Thursday, February 24, 2011

In West Virginia, acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has introduced a bill to pay for construction of the final portion of U.S. Route 35. Truckers and other drivers would pay to access the new route.

A November 2010 financial report from the West Virginia Parkways Authority included a schedule of toll rates to complete the project. A toll of $1.21 per mile for five-axle vehicles is possible.

Tomblin?s plan would authorize the purchase of bonds issued by the Parkways Authority. He wants to tap the Public Employees Retirement System for the majority of the $187 million needed to complete the 14-mile portion of a four-lane U.S. 35 in Mason and Putnam counties.

The retirement account would mostly be repaid through tolls on the roadway. Another source of revenue to repay the money is the West Virginia Infrastructure Fund, which normally pays for water and sewer projects.

Critics say they understand that roads need to be built in the state, but they aren?t willing to borrow from pension plans to get the work done.

Others say there are better options than charging tolls to pay for the road. One option being touted is using a portion of the state?s $240 million budget surplus for the current fiscal year.

Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, has offered a bill that would rely on state surplus funds to finish the route. By law, half the surplus must be deposited into the state?s Rainy Day Fund.

By the end of the fiscal year in June, the Tomblin administration is projecting that about $130 million will remain after the Rainy Day Fund is filled.

Hall?s bill ? SB384 ? and Tomblin?s bill ? SB606 ? are in the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. All bills must advance from committee by early next week to avoid a deadline.

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

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