Rough Roads Action needed to remedy highway woes

There are stretches of major highways in West Virginia where one can drive for half an hour without encountering pothole-free pavement. There are bridges in our state, including some in our area, that have been on borrowed time for years.

Any questions about why state officials need to devise a plan to pay for highway and bridge maintenance and improvements?

For nearly two years, a state Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, has been studying the issue. It has yet to issue a final report. State legislators seem in no hurry to prod the commission for recommendations.

That is because it is clear the problem can be solved only with new funding – lots of it. Some analysts say an adequate highway program will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year more than is being spent now.

For many years, adequate funding was available, primarily through the state gasoline and diesel fuel tax. But the tax is calculated on a per-gallon basis. More fuel-efficient vehicles and inflation in general have meant revenue lags badly behind need.

No doubt some state officials are hoping for a rescue from Washington. After all, President Barack Obama is pushing hard for Congress to approve massive new infrastructure funding. It would be provided by increasing the national debt, of course.

Uncle Sam is a bad bet, however. Look at Washington’s track record concerning roads in West Virginia: Work on an important one, Corridor H, began in 1974. It is not slated for completion until 2035, because federal funding for it has been provided with record-breaking procrastination.

No, roads and bridges are something West Virginians are going to have to handle on our own. That means finding some way to raise an enormous amount of new money.

The options already are known. But none is appealing because no one wants to ask Mountain State residents to pay more in taxes and/or fees.

The problem won’t go away on its own. Our roads and bridges are in the process of doing that, however.

Tomblin should order the commission to provide recommendations early this summer. Then he should call the Legislature into special session to do something about the problem.

It won’t be pleasant. But neither is a drive on most West Virginia roads these days.