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Editorial: Surge of roadwork looks to be on tap

From The Dominion Post of Morgantown: 
Perhaps Gov. Jim Justice’s road initiatives will sweep across the state like waves hitting a beach.

But by now we’re all ready to settle for sustained ripples.

This week, Transportation Secretary Tom Smith described the imminent road-building program in terms of waves to a contractors’ forum.

Smith expects these initiative will start with about  $350 million of road resurfacing this year.

That’s about 1 1/2 times the road funding the state received in 2009 from President Obama’s stimulus plan.

You may recall those funds, among other projects, financed widening a two-lane section of W.Va. 705 — from Stewartstown Road to the Mileground — to a four-lane road.

Today, that project is one we still point to as actually improving this area’s traffic grid and being completed in quick order.

We are well aware of the governor’s list of road projects broken down county by county on his website, including 17 in Monongalia and eight in Preston counties.

Almost half of those projects in Monongalia County are highlighted as major initiatives and their price tags live up to that designation.

Our hope, no, make that our call is for the majority of these projects to come to fruition by 2021.

Overall, the road initiatives statewide could total $2.8 billion. More than half of that though, depends on voters approving a referendum Oct. 7 to let the state sell $1.6 billion in bonds.

In addition, in June the Legislature passed two bills that will facilitate the initial surge of road work.

One bill, which went into effect July 1, will raise $140 million in new taxes and DMV fees to fund roads.

The other gives the state Parkways Authority the green light to sell infrastructure bonds for projects aside from the West Virginia Turnpike.

Those bonds will be paid with continuing and increasing tolls on the Turnpike. The first round of those bonds goes to market around year’s end, raising about $130 million.

Eventually, the state plans to issue $500 million in Parkways bonds or more if other roads begin charging tolls.

Meanwhile, GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds will be marketed this year with a second round expected in early 2018.

GARVEE bonds let states finance debt with a portion of future federal highway money they receive.

The state Division of Highways is also expecting to hire 500 employees to fill vacancies during this upturn in roadwork. A job fair announcement is expected soon.

For a state that’s struggled to patch potholes for years, this is heady stuff. But it’s imperative that this ground swell of roadwork show visible results.

And not further erode confidence in our state government and the DOH.

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