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Road bond breakdown; Nearly half a billion dollars hangs in the balance for southern W.Va.


The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Early voting is under way to determine the fate of the Roads to Prosperity Highway Program in West Virginia, and nearly $500 million in projects throughout southern West Virginia hang in the balance.

In total, each county has projects big and small lined up for work if the referendum passes.

A total of 119 projects are in seven counties in southern West Virginia, according to a project list posted online at – $207.4 million in Raleigh, $177.6 million in Wyoming, $46.3 million in Fayette, $35.8 million in Greenbrier, $10.7 million in Nicholas, $9.6 million in Monroe, and $9.3 million in Summers.

The most expensive projects include an estimated $60 million to widen a seven-mile stretch of Interstate 77/64 at Beckley, a combined $51.5 million for two projects to extend the Z-Way from Beckley to Beaver and Shady Spring, $75 million to construct a 3.3-mile, two-lane road and bridge over the New River near Sandstone and – the biggest of all – $110 million to build the the Coalfields Expressway, a four-lane highway to Welch in Wyoming County.

Gov. Jim Justice, who has been traveling the state to urge citizens to support the referendum, is casting the vote as a make-or-break moment for the Mountain State.

“From my take, and I speak very plain and I’m forward in my words, but I really believe that this is the single-biggest vote West Virginians have ever made in the history of their state,” Justice said at a town meeting in Beckley earlier this month. “This road bond referendum is the launching pad to a future for West Virginia that is beyond belief.”

West Virginia Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith explained how the projects were chosen, what the priority list looks like if the referendum passes, the difference between different bonds and several projects that are under way.

West Virginians will vote Saturday, Oct. 7, on whether to approve the referendum. Early voting for the special election began Friday and will continue through Oct. 4, excluding Sundays.

There are a few funding mechanisms for the projects. The first is federal aid funds, or GARVEE bonds. These are an 80-20 match.

The second is the turnpike revenue which goes to 10 counties in southern West Virginia that border the turnpike.

The third is the general obligation funds, which includes money from the already passed wholesale tax, motor vehicle privilege tax and an increase to Division of Motor Vehicle fees.

Smith said projects were chosen based off the state’s six-year plan.

“We decided if we had a big infusion of cash, we wanted to pick up as much of the six-year plan as possible,” he said.

Some projects, the pay-as-you-go projects, were not in the six-year plan because the state never had money to do them, he said.

Some projects have already started. On July 1, the state started getting funds from increases to the wholesale gasoline tax, motor vehicle privilege tax and Division of Motor Vehicle fees. He said the department realized it would not need that money for the debt service for the general obligation bonds if the referendum passed.

Smith said the goal was to find 2018-2019 resurfacing projects he could move up to this year.

“We wanted to go ahead and, as a show of good faith, use a year’s worth of money,” he said. “We have carved off $100 million as pay-as-you-go to get the roads worked on. We asked the district engineers to identify off system routes that need work and carry a lot of traffic.”

Another part, he said, has been making sure U.S. routes that get a lot of traffic also receive attention.

“These are much smaller routes. These are roads people live on,” Smith said. “We want to make sure we have those with higher traffic so we’re not doing a road that services two to three houses. These are the hardest roads to get to and they have been neglected for the longest time.”

There are about 40 projects of GARVEE bonding, he said. Several of these are complete bridge replacements. He said these projects should start as early as this winter or next spring.

Another part to GARVEE bonds is interstate reconstructions. Smith said in the last 10 years, seven miles of interstate has been reconstructed. Next year, 60 miles on about a dozen projects will be reconstructed.

“We have a history of mill and fill, where we grind off an inch and a half and put back an inch and a half,” he said. “That works for a while but then the pavement wears out. We’re not doing the best thing for pavement and not using money in the best way we can.

“With reconstruction, we are going down to the base and building from the bottom to the top. We have not had the money in the past to do that.”

Last week, Smoth said, the state had the single-biggest bid letting in Department of Transportation history with 40 contracts arrived at through competitive bidding.

“We got great bids, and West Virginia contractors got most of the jobs,” Smith said. “We are off to a good start.”

If the road bond passes, 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. He estimated contracts for these may be awarded as soon as next week so contractors can get started on these projects. Then come the bigger general obligation projects. These are the more expensive projects, including the widening of the turnpike in Beckley.

“The public will see work starting all over the place, but as we organize and manage those, we will understand what parts we are working on next,” Smith said.

He said if the bond doesn’t pass, priorities will have to be reshuffled. The department would have to immediately scale back the pay-as-you-go projects and the second installment of GARVEEs.

“We would miss a tremendous opportunity for economic recovery,” he said. “We would miss an ideal time for bonding.”

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