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Price tag high on W.Va. road improvements

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Improving the state’s highway system comes with a high price tag, according to the long-awaited Blue Ribbon Commission Report released Wednesday. Also, the three-year study recommends further analysis of the state’s transportation infrastructure and fuel excise taxes.

 With more than one-third of the state’s roads in “either poor or mediocre condition” and 35 percent of its bridges in need of repair, improvement or replacement, the $1.13 billion annual cost of transportation could mean a change in the way state revenues are distributed, a targeted tax increase and long-term tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike.

If the Turnpike is turned over to the West Virginia Division of Highways in 2019, another $59 million gets added to the cost of highway maintenance in the Mountain State. Currently, Turnpike maintenance, the cost of police patrols and Tamarack’s operation are funded with tolls collected at three sites along the road.

The Turnpike could play a vital role in bumping up road revenues. In fact, tolls could pave the way for road improvements all over the state.

Included in the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission, “leveraging” the tolls to create a West Virginia Transportation Fund, which could raise $50 million annually. The Commission recommended that tolls remain in place after 2019, when bonds for the Turnpike are set to expire. The funds would be raised through a series of scheduled toll increases and from the sale of $1 billion in bonds, which would be used for statewide road projects, the Commission recommended.

Currently, the report said, 74 percent of toll revenues come from out-of-state residents.

By far, the largest revenue source is the recommended 1 percent increase in Consumer Sales and Service Tax, expected to raise $200 million, with the additional revenue going into the Road Fund…


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