CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice hailed Saturday night’s special election for the Roads to Prosperity a victory, calling it the most historic vote for West Virginia.
Justice held a press conference Saturday night. Justice and Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith had toured the state, campaigning for the referendum.
“What a night for everyone in West Virginia,” Justice said. “And I can’t thank voters enough and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. The people have spoken and they have spoken loudly. They have spoken they want jobs; they want opportunity and they want change. They want hope — hope that this terrible, terrible drug epidemic will start us on our pathway to genuinely do something about it.”
As of 11 p.m., with 98 percent of precincts reporting, there were 86,123 votes, or 72.66 percent, voting for the amendment, and 32,404 votes, or 27.34 percent, against the referendum, according to unofficial results from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office. The measure needed 60 percent to pass.
These results do not include absentee ballots received by mail after Election Day or provisional ballots.
Justice said Saturday night’s vote was the most historic vote for West Virginia.
“This will be our starting point,” Justice said. “We will build on this. This will not be the end. This will be the start.”
Senate President Mitch Carmichael also spoke alongside the governor Saturday night.
“I send my congrats to the people of West Virginia,” Carmichael said. “Democracy is renewed with this vote that people have stepped up, they saw the value in fixing our roads, putting more people back to work and controlling expenditures while we do this. This is a great night for the people of West Virginia.”
Smith called the vote a “great day for West Virginia transportation.
“Now, we can get the road work done that we need to get done,” Smith said. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Justice hinted at the possibility of calling a special session to address hiring procedures.
“It needs to be fine tuned but we probably are,” Justice said. “We need to address the red tape and bureaucracy that takes ever so long to hire people and get people in these positions. There are a couple of things. You will find out about that in the days to come.”
Smith said the governor has several ideas in mind for bills in a potential special session. He said the need for an expedited process will need to be scoped in the future and is something that is at the forefront of their focus as they move forward.
“The governor has several things in mind but it seems like he’s keeping the list to himself,” Smith said. “He told us about hiring authorities for the West Virginia Department of Transportation. We are 500 people under quota as we speak here. We need to get started. We need engineers, students from Marshall and WVU to deliver the program.”
Smith said he anticipates the bigger projects, about $700-$800 million, will be out the door around June of next year. However, 30 bridge replacements and interstate reconstruction projects will start as early as this Fall.
Smith previously said there are three funding mechanisms for the projects. First, there are federal aid funds or GARVEE bonds, which is an 80-20 match.The second is turnpike revenue, which would go to 10 counties in southern West Virginia that border the turnpike.The third is general obligation funds, which includes money from the already passed wholesale gasoline tax, motor vehicle privilege tax and an increase to the Division of Motor Vehicle fees.
Projects will be rolled out in waves. The first wave is resurfacing, which has already pushed out all over the state. The second wave is the pay-as-you-go on secondary off federal system roads. The third wave is the GARVEE projects.
Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, called the vote a “big win.”
“It was a tough football loss in Texas but a big win today for our country roads in West Virginia,” Bates said. “A win much needed to put our people to work and fix and fund new infrastructure in Southern West Virginia. I thank those who took the time today to vote and show that they believe like I do in West Virginia and it’s future. Let’s go.”
Delegate Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, called the vote a “game changer.”
“I’ve been all over southern West Virginia for the past month talking with folks about this bond,” Baldwin said. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure how the vote would turn out. Tough questions led to good dialogue and tonight, the voters agreed this roads package was vital to West Virginia’s economic development. The Department of Transportation has a tremendous opportunity to be good stewards of the resources and the trust we’ve placed with them as a state. I can’t wait to get to work with them.”
Delegate John O’Neal, R-Raleigh, called Saturday night an exciting time.
“The people of our state responded overwhelmingly in favor of the road bond plan,” O’Neal said. “Our governor did an amazing job of selling his plan. Now, we pray that the promises of massive job growth, incredible economic growth, and no new taxes will materialize. We are going to find out if this will truly be the Road to Prosperity.”
— Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom