BUCKHANNON — Few people parked themselves in the Upshur County Commission meeting room to learn more about the Roads to Prosperity bond referendum Thursday night.
Those who did come first heard from Del. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, who called voting for the road bond a win-win despite opinions to the contrary.
“There’s been a lot of comments made against this road bond and they are totally false what they are telling people,” Hamilton said. “There will not be any new taxes. The taxes were already done and voted on when we were in special session.
“The bond reads that we have new taxes, and the reason it does is we passed the bond referendum when we were in regular session. Right at the end of the session, they thought they had a consensus on a tax to provide the funding for the bonds. It all fell through.”
In the special session in June, the legislature did come to a consensus, raising the privilege tax on automobiles from 5 percent to 6 percent, raising the DMV fees and increasing the wholesale tax on gasoline to 3.3 cents.
Hamilton noted that the gasoline tax had been lowered under past governor Joe Manchin III.
“He took it off, and it really put the Department of Highways in a bad way, because they lost money,” he said.
Upshur County will see about $10.3 million from the bond referendum which will go towards fixing several slippage problems other safety issues and replacing three bridges, one in Tennerton, one in French Creek and one on the Middle Fork River.
Bob Ashley, Governor Jim Justice’s legislative director, was back in Upshur County Thursday after traveling around the region discussing Roads to Prosperity.
Ashley noted that the state is paying off the bonds purchased in 1996 this fiscal year and the timing is right for a new bond issue.
“If we can get this approved and get to the market, they are expecting the bond rate to be about 3 ½ percent,” Ashley said. “It could be a little bit lower, but we were told to expect 3 ½ percent and that’s a very good rate for bonds right now.”
Ashley said the special revenue budget for roads is $1.1 billion and has been stagnant for years.
“It has not gained, so our buying power is a lot less than what it is,” he said. “Out of that $1.1 billion, about $300 million goes for employees, trucks and buildings cost. There is $400 million that comes in from the federal government and we match it with $100 million to do what work is one on the interstate highways and the corridors.
“That leaves about $300-$400 million for all other road maintenance and new construction. It really stretches the budget.”
Brian Cooper, District 7 engineer, noted one regional project that has been on the DOH radar for years is improvements to Exit 99 on Interstate 79.
“It’s a problem we would like to address,” he said. “It’s a safety concern.”
The bonds will be sold over four years, but the first installment is going to be the largest, according to Cooper.
“We have identified over $700 million in highways projects,” Cooper said.
Exit 99 is scheduled to go in the first installment.
If the bond referendum does not pass, those projects will still be done — eventually, according to Cooper.
But that comes at a cost.
“First and foremost, we miss an opportunity for economic recovery, for job creation and to fix our roads in a more expeditious manner,” he said. “The cost of doing nothing is that West Virginians will pay more because of the higher cost of waiting. The cost of construction has risen 65 percent in the last 13 years.”
Early voting is under way and continues until Oct. 4 in county courthouses during normal operating hours and on Saturday, Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. All precincts will be open Saturday, Oct. 7 from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
For more information and a list of projects, visit www. Roadstoprosperity.wv.gov.