From The Intelligencer of Wheeling:
Now whether the challenge is addressed is up to us. It would be foolish not to seize the opportunity.
A referendum scheduled for Oct. 7 seeks voter approval of a $1.6 billion bond issue for highway and bridge repairs and improvements throughout the state. Early voting on the proposal began Friday.
If approved, the measure would allow state officials to sell $1.6 billion in bonds that would be augmented by nearly $300 million in other funds, including federal money. A list of 35 individual road projects to be undertaken has been circulated.
What makes the plan a virtual no-brainer for area residents is that local projects account for a large percentage of the total. They include:
— $172.5 million to replace deteriorated bridges on Interstate 70 in Ohio County.
— $110 million to widen W.Va. 2 to four lanes from Proctor north to Franklin, in Wetzel and Marshall counties.
— $11 million to relocate and widen W.Va. 2 through New Cumberland, in Hancock County.
We have heard just two concerns about the plan locally. One is cost. Would new taxes be necessary to pay off the bonds?
No. State legislators approved about $130 million in higher fuel taxes and fees paid by vehicle owners this spring. That money, earmarked for the bond project, should be ample to cover it.
Another worry has been whether state officials plan to begin charging tolls for use of I-70 in our area.
Gov. Jim Justice has said on multiple occasions that there is no plan to do that. This week, he told local residents that, “At the end of the day, that is not an issue on my radar in any way, shape, form or fashion. We need to forget the tolling. That’s all there is to it.”
To his credit, Justice added that, “nobody being truthful could tell you that we are not (at some time in the future) of the world ever going to toll anything.”
Give the governor credit for not closing options to state officials in the future. For now, however, I-70 tolls are not a consideration — and should not be.
In our state, approval of any bond issue requires an amendment to the state Constitution. This one is titled the “Roads to Prosperity Amendment of 2017.” Though the ballot language appears somewhat complex, the issue for Northern Panhandle voters is simple:
Approval of the measure will clear the way for nearly $300 million in highway and bridge improvements in our area. It will require no new taxes — and no tolls on I-70.
Because the plan is such a good one for our area, we endorse the road bond amendment and recommend local residents vote “yes” on it.