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Gov. Justice pushes for road bond referendum


The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.  — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is making his case for voters to approve the state’s highway construction referendum next month, claiming it’s the best tool to jump start the start the state’s economy, during a conference call with reporters Thursday.


On Oct. 7, residents will vote on whether to give the West Virginia Legislature authority to issue $1.6 billion in bonds over the next four years. If approved, the amendment would generate nearly $3 billion in road projects across West Virginia and would cost the state about $2.8 million.

The Eastern Panhandle could see an estimated $195.5 million in state highway construction money for projects in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties if state voters approve a special referendum in October.

Justice left no doubt to what he calls the critical importance of next month’s vote.

“It is the single biggest vote that West Virginians have ever made in the history of the state,” Justice said. “We’ve been dead last and 50th in so many things for such a long, long period of time.”

In June the state Legislature approved Senate Joint Resolution 6, the Roads to Prosperity Amendment of 2017, sending the proposed amendment before voters.

Justice said he’s mulled a multitude of options for jolting the state’s economy.

He invariably came back to the same answer.

“The only thing that kept coming back to me during the campaign was roads and the projects that we had on the books, and that could create immediate jobs if we could find a way to fund it,” Justice said. “We could create tens of thousands of jobs and bring real revenue to our state that could really get us cooking, and cooking in a great way.”

Justice also made sure voters know that “funding buckets” are in place to pay for the road construction plan.

“The net, net is that the funding is already there,” Justice said. “There is no additional tax increases at all. For anyone to go out and spread the news that if you vote for this (referendum) there is going to be an additional tax increase, that is so ‘un-West Virginian,’ if that’s a word, and its so untrue.

The four funding buckets include: a motor vehicle privilege tax, a wholesale gas tax, an increase in Division of Motor Vehicle fees, and state turnpike toll revenue.

Justice predicts the referendum will generate an estimated 48,000 new jobs.

“We are going to do $2.4 billion in roadwork, plus all the maintenance repair that’s going to go on that’s really going to move us to probably $3.2 billion of total work,” Justice said. “We don’t count the additional jobs beyond $2.4 billion.”

The road construction jobs will then generate state payroll taxes.

“The payroll tax is going to be hundreds of millions of dollars,” Justice said. “That’s going to go right back into our coffers to be able to help things like education or veterans or Medicaid, or whatever it’s going to be.”

New roads may also draw new residents, Justice said.

“When you’re trying to attract people to a state, you can give them money, you can give them incentives, you can give them lots and lots of things,”Justice said. “But if you don’t have a good way of life — and roads are a gigantic component to that — if you don’t have that, you’ll never get them to come.”

The majority of the construction work covered by the referendum will start next spring, according to Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith.

The list of state Department of Highways projects earmarked for Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties include:

Berkeley County – WV 51: widen WV 51 from I-81 I/C to WV 51/US 11 I/S (Inwood Bypass) Cost: $23.5 million

Berkeley County – I-81: widen I-81. Cost: $75 million.

Jefferson County – US 340 improvements at Harpers Ferry Construct turning lanes and climbing lane. Cost: $11 million.

Jefferson County – US 340 widening Charles Town – VA Line Construct 4-lane highway between Charles Town and Rippon. Cost: $4O million

(contingent on the “Roads to Prosperity” Referendum passing)

Morgan County – Fairview Drive Connector. Build 2-lane connector road between US 522 and Fairview Drive near Hospital in Berkeley Springs. Cost: $6 million.

Morgan County – US 522: Bypass at Berkeley Springs. Rebuild US 522 in Morgan County to 4-lane highway around Berkeley Springs. Cost: $40 million.

Staff writer Jim McConville can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 215, or Twitter@jmcconvilleJN.

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