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Opinion: ‘Roads to Prosperity’ road bond is right vehicle to jumpstart economy

 W.Va. Secretary of Commerce

For years, West Virginia has been searching for the right vehicle to jump-start economic growth.

At last, we’ve found an appropriate one right in front of us: Our roads.

The “Roads to Prosperity” road bond referendum is the bold vision of Governor Jim Justice. The plan proposes road projects in each of West Virginia’s 55 counties. The entire roster is laid out, county by county, road by road and bridge by bridge, on the governor’s Facebook page:

West Virginians have a chance to act by voting to support the road bond issue in the Oct. 7 “Special Election for Constitutional Amendment.”

Our citizens need safe roads to go to school, to work and to carry out their daily lives. Our businesses need reliable roads to ship goods in and out of state. Our economy needs new roads to attract more visitors and more industry.

Road construction and improvement projects create jobs — fast. These construction jobs will start putting wages in the pockets of West Virginia’s workers and dollars in the cash registers of West Virginia’s businesses practically right away.

State officials plan $2.4 billion in road construction projects. Of that total, $1.6 billion in projects require passage of the constitutional amendment to allow the state to pursue additional bonds. The bond sales will not add any additional taxes or fees.

This is a new idea. It’s different. And that has some West Virginians shaking their heads. They suspect there may be a cost or a risk in there somewhere.

I haven’t been in state government long, but I have been in business in West Virginia for more than 30 years. I’ve led a top-ranked engineering and architectural corporation. From both governmental and industrial perspectives, I can tell you there will be a cost if we don’t move forward.

The risk is we will continue to lose what we have now — jobs, industries, schools, communities and overall population. We risk losing a better future for our state, our families and our children.

Bringing new economic development into West Virginia is literally and figuratively about the conditions of our roads. There is no better way to stimulate the state’s economy right now.

In terms of economic development and job creation, first impressions matter.

From a development prospect’s first visit to West Virginia to the day that company’s trucks haul their first loads of product to national markets, the conditions of our state’s roads are an important issue. The long lasting value of the roads will benefit future economic development.

Before a company locates in West Virginia, certain questions must be answered:

— Are transportation routes available to get our products to market?

— Are the bridges and roads stable and maintained?

— Are there enough access roads to our prospective location?

— Will our fleet expenses be dramatically impacted by road conditions?

— Can the workforce get to our location in a timely manner and in all weather?

— Are family members and school children endangered by road conditions?

— Is the quality of life negatively impacted by the roads?

Those are the same issues all West Virginians should consider on Oct. 7. The projects funded through these road bonds will provide a safer, more secure environment for West Virginia’s citizens.

We can’t build West Virginia’s economy by talking about it. If West Virginians want a better quality of life, new jobs, industry and opportunity in our state, we must act to make it happen. Idle wishing and good intentions won’t get it done. We must act now to pave the path for prosperity in West Virginia.

As Secretary of Commerce for West Virginia, I ask that you help build West Virginia’s future: Vote yes on the Oct. 7 road bond issue.

— Woody Thrasher is the West Virginia Secretary of Commerce.

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