By PHIL KABLER
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice’s proposal to sell $1.4 billion or more in bonds to fund highways and infrastructure projects reached a receptive audience in West Virginia Contractors Association Executive Director Mike Clowser.
“It sounds like he is making an investment in infrastructure a priority, not only for jobs but for the economy,” Clowser said Monday.
In his inaugural address, Justice said, “We all know our roads are hurting, don’t we?”
Justice said he needs “some way, some how” to come up with $225 million a year that can be leveraged to sell somewhere between $1.4 billion and $4.5 billion in bonds for roads and infrastructure.
“You can absolutely begin highway construction in the state tomorrow — tomorrow — like you can’t imagine,” Justice said of the proposal.
For Clowser, Justice’s plan evoked recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, of which Clowser was a member. The commission concluded in 2013 that the state needed to sell $1.1 billion in bonds to begin to adequately build and maintain highways.
The commission proposed extending tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike to finance the bonds, but neither then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin nor the Legislature was enthusiastic about the proposal.
On Monday, Justice alluded to tolls as one possible way to finance road construction.
He said of raising the $225 million, “It doesn’t mean we have to tax you. We’ve just got to figure it out.”
Justice added, “Whether it be tolls or whatever it may be, I’ve got to come up with a bucket that is equivalent to $125 per living human in West Virginia.”
Clowser said he is encouraged that there might be more support now for road bonds, as promoted by Justice.
“I do think people have come to the realization we cannot ignore our infrastructure problems any longer,” Clowser said.
Clowser said the Blue Ribbon study concluded that each $500 million invested in highways construction would create about 10,000 jobs, with about half those jobs in construction, but also creating jobs “throughout the entire economy, in retail, transportation and manufacturing.”
Clowser said he looks forward to meeting with new Transportation Secretary Tom Smith to discuss the details of the highways proposal.
“I’m just so glad we’re talking about infrastructure,” Clowser said, adding, “We’re looking forward to learning more about the governor’s proposal.”
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