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Editorial: W.Va. faces day of reckoning on highway needs

Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:09 AM

Years of falling short on road and highway maintenance has caught up with West Virginia to the point that it now faces some significant costs just to narrow the gap on what's needed.

That's the conclusion of a committee of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways. It recently recommended that the state should spend $1.1 billion more a year to preserve and enhance its highway system. Considering that amount equals about 10 percent of the state government's annual budget, the sum will be extremely difficult to find.

But the infrastructure committee's overall message that the state should invest more on the state's highways and roads shouldn't be ignored. It warns that continuing current spending levels would result in a serious deterioration of roads and bridges, according to a report by the Charleston Daily Mail.

The infrastructure committee recommended an additional $750 million a year for maintenance of the current system -- a compromise between the bare minimum it says is needed to avoid deterioration and a "Cadillac" highway system -- plus $380 million a year for several new projects over the next 20 years.

Members of the commission's revenue committee conceded that finding that kind of money will be hard to do. There are various options that could yield more money for road work, but none mentioned at the commission's meeting this month came close to providing that kind of revenue.

The full commission is expected to have a final recommendation to the governor by May, and its proposals may well change by then -- perhaps to something less ambitious. But the governor and lawmakers should start thinking now about how they might begin to pay at least a part of the bill that's come due on the state's highway system. Driving down the road of further deterioration isn't really an acceptable option.

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