CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed 2020-21 state budget reduces state Division of Highways funding by $145 million, to $1.31 billion — primarily because it does not repeat last year’s $100 million one-time transfer of budget surplus for secondary road repairs, members of the House Finance Committee learned Monday.
Deputy Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston said Highways used about $34 million of that funding to buy much-needed new equipment, stating, “I can’t even begin to exaggerate the difference that has made.”
Normally, Highways has about a $15 million line-item each year for equipment purchases, he said.
Asked whether the $34 million provided enough equipment to adequately maintain state roads, Wriston said, “I would need another $80 million a year over the next four years.”
He added, “We’ll work with what we have.”
Additionally, another $45 million that had been committed to secondary road work in 2019-20 now has to go to pay debt service on the second round of Roads to Prosperity bonds that went to market in December, raising a total of $747 million for highways construction.
Meanwhile, Adam Holley, outgoing acting commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles, said the state stands to lose $58 million a year in federal highways funding if it keeps a 2019 law barring DUI arrests on private roads on the books.
Passed during the 2019 regular session in response to a 2016 state Supreme Court ruling making it illegal to drive drunk “anywhere in this state,” including private property, lead sponsor Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, described the legislation as the “right to act stupid on your own property.”
Holley said the permissive language could result in the state facing a withholding of a total of 14% of the state’s federal highways funding appropriation.
Also during the Department of Transportation budget presentation:
- Holley said about 40% of state residents have Real ID compliant driver’s licenses or identification cards, which will be required after Oct. 1 to board commercial aircraft or to enter federal buildings.
- Individuals without Real ID will need a valid passport or military identification to fly or enter federal facilities, he said.
Holley said DMV plans a final promotional push for Real ID this year, but added, “We anticipate a certain segment of our population just aren’t going to need to get on a plane or enter a federal building.”
- Justice’s proposed 2020-21 budget includes a $2.8 million funding increase for the State Rail Authority to continue MARC commuter rail service between Washington, D.C. and the Eastern Panhandle for the budget year.
- Rail Authority executive director Cindy Butler said the state has signed a five-year agreement with the Maryland Transit Authority to continue MARC service into the panhandle.
Maryland officials last year had threatened to cut the service to single eastbound and westbound trains each weekday, over the state’s failure to fully fund its share of the operating costs.
- Butler said the State Rail Authority has had virtually no involvement with the state Port Authority over operations of the now-defunct Heartland Intermodal Gateway facility in Prichard, Wayne County.
The four-year-old, $32 million road-to-rail cargo transfer facility shut down in September, and is slated to go on the auction block shortly, Transportation Secretary Byrd White said.