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Some approve higher taxes, fees

Jul. 18, 2013 @ 11:47 PM

HUNTINGTON -- West Virginians value their highways and byways and are willing to put their money where their mouth is to care for them, according to the results of a survey conducted Thursday evening by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.

A public meeting to solicit ideas about preserving, improving and advancing the West Virginia highway system was conducted Thursday at Marshall University, where approximately 100 people showed up to let their opinions on the topic be known.

Blue Ribbon Commission member Jan Vineyard said the meetings, being conducted at locations statewide, came at the urging of W.Va. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, who will be presented with a comprehensive report on the findings in mid-September. Vineyard said Tomblin has previously indicated he would call W.Va. legislators back into special session to address the state's road concerns.

"We envision a three-legged stool approach to fund the road network. We need to find cost savings and efficiencies, raise revenues and look at innovative ideas," Vineyard said. "Our highways are important, and we have to figure out a way to do better and have safer roads."

The West Virginia Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways is tasked with studying the condition and needs of the state's transportation system and developing a long-term strategic plan of action. With 34,596 miles of public roads, West Virginia is one of only four states in which no local municipalities share ownership, and the sixth-largest state-maintained highway network in the nation based on roadway mileage.

Currently, West Virginia relies on three primary sources to fund maintenance and construction of its roads, highways and bridges including the state gasoline tax, taxes and fees on vehicles and driver's licenses, and federal transportation funds derived from the federal gasoline tax.

At Thursday's meeting, Vineyard said those in attendance showed favorable support for increasing motor vehicle license and registration fees, adding those figures have not increased the 1980s. There was also support for tax increases on fuel purchases (67 percent favorable), vehicles (79 percent favorable) and consumer sales taxes (71 percent favorable) to benefit the care and keeping of West Virginia highways. Additionally, more than 80 percent of survey respondents favored continuing tolls on the W.Va. Turnpike.

Public comments at the meeting reinforced concerns over the conditions of many of W.Va.'s crumbling roads, adding that better highways are not only a safety need, but a tool for attracting better jobs and tourism. Some, however, felt the state's needs surpass what taxpayers will pay. All agreed the roads are important, but in poor repair.

Vineyard said her volunteer efforts with a national charity for children can offer some possible ideas for curing West Virginia's road ails.

"If everyone gives a dollar, next thing you know you have $100,000," she explained. "I think a bit of the same thing applies here. If everyone can give a little, in the end it adds up to a lot, and we all benefit."

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.



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