Justice calls for Roads to Prosperity approval in Morgantown

By CONNOR GRIFFITH

NCWV Media

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.  — With the clock winding down before West Virginia voters decide on a road bond issue, Gov. Jim Justice held a town hall meeting at West Virginia University’s Erickson Alumni Center Tuesday to rally support for the “Roads to Prosperity” program.

The road bond issue would pay for more than $1 billion worth of highway repair and construction projects throughout the state without requiring new levies or state taxes. Funding for the “Roads to Prosperity” program has already passed both houses of the West Virginia Legislature.

Voters will decide the program’s fate at the polls on Oct. 7.

During the meeting in Morgantown, state Commissioner of Highways and Secretary of Transportation Thomas Smith said there has never been a better time to finance these projects through bonds, with interest rates at about 3.5 percent.

Wait any longer, he said, and those interest rates could go up, and the roads will become harder to fix as they continue to deteriorate.

In the long run, Smith said, it’ll be cheaper to do these projects now with bond debt, rather than trying to pay for every project on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Justice agreed.

“As for the pay-as-you-go philosophy? Well, we’ve proven how to be dead last. Economically, it doesn’t work,” the governor said, while detailing the consequences of voting the program down. “You’re going to get a catastrophe as far as state cuts go. We’re way past the time to take out of the rainy-day fund.”

Justice said Roads to Prosperity would directly generate 48,000 jobs.

That, plus the other economic outcomes of making West Virginia more attractive to outside companies, could even prompt West Virginians who left the state for work to return, he said.

With the statewide vote to be held on a Saturday when the WVU will play Big 12 football rival TCU, Justice said election turnout could be low as 15 percent of the voters. But he called on everyone at Tuesday’s meeting to spread the word and convince those they know to go to the polls.

Representatives from in-state business organizations expressed their support for Roads to Prosperity.

Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia, said the 48,000 construction jobs generated by the program would have secondary effects on the state’s economy because those workers will in turn go to restaurants, buy cars and contribute to tourism and retail.

”We feel these immediate jobs will create thousands of jobs that will ripple throughout the economy.”

Chris Hamilton, chairman of the {span}West Virginia Business & Industry Council, also supported Roads to Prosperity. Representing workers in coal, natural gas and others, he said the quality of roads is just as important to companies considering setting up shop in an area as local education prospects. Upgrading the roads, he said, will directly affect the quality of life.{/span}

Local resident Jeremy Bryan, who works in real estate along with his wife, attended the meeting to learn more about Roads to Prosperity for himself. Upon the meeting’s conclusion, Bryan said his vote will definitely be a ‘yes’ citing the economic impacts that will come not only with the new jobs but a more attractive landscape for growth.

“The people that are against this, I think they just don’t understand the ripple effect,” he said. Bryan, who is also a member of the Star City Volunteer Fire Department, said it’s also a matter of public safety noting the congestion he encounters when responding to emergencies. “If we are called to a structure fire and run into heavy congestion, say during a game day, the implications are horrible.”

WVU President E. Gordon Gee said the area has grown as much as it can due to limited infrastructure and that infrastructure must me improved. He noted that if West Virginia’s country roads are full of potholes and falling apart without adequate repairs, then the state has lost its ability to compete.

NCWV Staff Writer Conor Griffith can be reached at 304-391-3168 or by email at [email protected]

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