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Commissioner of Highways and Secretary of Transportation talks upcoming road projects


The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W. Va. — West Virginia Commissioner of Highways and Secretary of Transportation Thomas J. Smith told Beckley Rotarians Tuesday over the span of Gov. Jim Justice’s four-year term, around 40 road projects will be completed within Road to Prosperity, the centerpiece of Justice’s economic recovery plan for the state.

Commissioner of Highways and Secretary of Transportation,Thomas Smith, spoke during the Beckley Rotary Club meeting held at Black Knight Country Club Tuesday afternoon.
(Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero)

Smith said Justice’s program is $2.8 billion in size, but that number will grow with additional funding and knowledge.

He called Justice’s program “pretty simple,” and said it was a goal to find three different sources of revenue and sell state bonds out as much as possible.

“We have been proud to offer you all the opportunity to bring projects forward to us,” Smith said. “Suddenly the number of dollars associated with projects was well over $3 billion.”

“We’re proud to call that a candidate list of projects because we really want to do what’s right for the citizens of West Virginia.”

Smith said Justice had three different “pots” of money for different sets of projects in his program; the first being using existing federal aid funds to push bridge and interstate reconstruction projects.

The Department of Highways and Transportation receives $450 million a year, Smith said, and the department had a limit of $200 million they were able to sell out in bonds. The state legislature then gave the department a new limit of $500 million, which he said they are using to push bridge and interstate reconstruction as quickly as possible.

Smith said in October, the state had the biggest levy in its history for transportation, a total of $260 million. This allowed for a revenue for 18 significant bridge replacements and 13 interstate reconstruction projects.

Interstate construction consists of no longer just resurfacing the interstate, but taking the surface out and rebuilding it.

Smith said over the last 10 years, the state has completed seven miles of interstate reconstruction state-wide, but by next year the state will have 60 miles of interstate reconstruction going on state-wide.

“You can only resurface the interstate for so long,” he said, “but then you get to the point where it’s no longer the best thing to do. We need to fix more than just the pavement, we need to take care of the roadways the way we need to.”

Smith said Justice’s second “pot” consists of utilizing tolls and the Turnpike. He said this will allow for building projects off the Turnpike possible.

The Mountaineers Are Always Free program comes into play here, Smith said, which would cost West Virginians about $8 to purchase and E-Z pass.

“The idea would be that West Virginians could benefit from this very reduced toll,” he said, “but then the tolls that we collect could actually be spent in 10 additional counties, and completely discount 10 counties nearby.”

Smith predicts the Mountaineers Are Always Free program could bring in anywhere from $350 to $500 million of bonds to go towards fixing up the Turnpike and additional projects off of it.

Of the many additional projects the state has planned, Smith said the department has a definite two in mind.

First would be completing the King Coal Highway Project in Bluefield, which was been completed partially with “the bridge to nowhere” which is set to connect the highway with I-77 off U.S. 460.

As of now, the bridge currently runs into the side of a mountain.

Secondly, officials would work to fix up Route 10, south of Man. Smith said Route 10 is partially in Logan County, but coincides with other counties including Wyoming. He said Route 10 will not be completely reconstructed, but several operational improvements will be made including anti-skid pavement additions and widening curves.

Smith said the third “pot” inquires general obligation bonds, which includes what many West Virginians voted for during a special election on October 7 involving a $1.6 billion bond referendum.

“We’re actually struggling how to plan all of this because that is a huge amount of money,” he said, “but we will be using this to work on the biggest projects throughout the state, the most expensive projects, and we’re intending to do well with that.”

The Turnpike widening projects falls under the third “pot,” according to Smith, which will allow for Interstate 77 to be widened between Interstate 64, making the Turnpike six lanes to help with congestion.

Widening the Turnpike is one of the first projects set to be completed; Smith said the project was supposed to be completed in 2006, but lack of funding made it impossible to do so.

About 25 interstate bridges on Interstate 70 near Wheeling also fall under the third “pot” in Justice’s plan.

“Those bridges are just falling apart in front of our eyes,” Smith said. “And we need to fix that. The most expensive projects come first.”

Justice’s program will allow for projects that the state has been neglecting to be completed, he said.

“I ask that you all please be happy and patient if you’re caught in road construction next year,” Smith said. “You more than likely will  be with all the projects we’ll have going on to better our state’s roads.”

Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH 

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