By ALI SCHMITZ
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the latest stop on his “Save Our State” tour, Gov. Jim Justice again promoted his plans to raise money to help fix and maintain road projects throughout West Virginia.
Justice repeated his amended gas tax plan,introduced last week, during a stop at Pipe Plus in Nitro. He’s proposing a tax increase of 4.5 cents per gallon, and increasing DMV fees from $30 to $50. He also wants to increase tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike from $2 to $4, but balance that out with an $8 annual fee for West Virginians to have an E-ZPass at tolls — a plan he calls “Mountaineers Are Always Friends.”
The governor has said he wants to sell $2.8 billion in bonds to fix the state’s roads and bridges. He said Monday his plan would create 48,000 new road jobs throughout the state, and bring in about $250 million in payroll taxes.
At the Nitro stop, Justice again recommended tax increases for wealthy residents to go towards a “Save Our State Fund.” People who make more than $200,000 would pay $500, those who make more than $250,000 would pay $750 and those who make more than $300,000 would pay $1,000. Justice said the fees would pull in about $8 million for the state.
“It’s not going to be all the money in the world,” Justice said. “It would make a lot of these people out here feel better that all of us are trying to pull the rope.”
Justice said Republicans who oppose the increases are hurting the state by not considering new policies, referring to some as “blockheads.”
“If you’re vapor-locked and you can’t think, you come up with some absurd statement by saying ‘I don’t care what it is, we’re not going to do anything. We’re not going to raise revenue in any way, shape, form or fashion,’ even though it makes all the sense in the world.” Justice said.
“You basically just stab our people right in the heart, and we’ve got to stop thinking like that.”
Nitro is the site of one of the dozens of projects Justice is recommending. Interstate 64 would be widened between the Nitro and Crooked Creek interchanges, a distance of about five miles.
The project would cost the state about $170 million, Justice said.
A preliminary design for the project includes building a new four-lane bridge downstream from the current Nitro-St.Albans interstate bridge and reconfiguring the St. Albans interchange on I-64.
State Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Smith lives in Teays Valley, and said when he drives through the area on his way to Charleston, he often gets caught in traffic jams or occasionally witnesses a crash.
The average driver in Charleston spends $1,357 a year in additional expenses due to poor roads, according to the latest report on West Virginia roads by TRIP, a national transportation research group. Smith said investing in road projects would make that number plummet.
“There is a cost of doing nothing,” Smith said. “That’s a tax, and you get nothing for it except bent rims, messed up steering alignments and bad tires by sitting in traffic.”
About 69,500 vehicles drive on I-64 everyday, according to the WVDOT.
Before Monday afternoon’s event in Nitro, Justice pushed his budget plans during a visit to the state veterans home in Barboursville.
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