Something must be done about roads

We have to do something about crumbling roads and rusting bridges in West Virginia. It is that simple.

Many legislators have demonstrated a laudable reluctance to raise taxes they and many of their constituents see as a refusal of some in state government to live within taxpayers’ means. But the State Road Fund is different.

During the past few weeks, it has appeared that anti-tax sentiment was not differentiating between West Virginia’s General Revenue Fund and the road fund. There is a big difference.

While general fund spending trended steadily upward for many years, the budget for roads and bridges remained stagnant. The current-year road fund, at $1.255 billion, is just 7 percent higher than for fiscal 2012.

Money available for routine road maintenance and to repair and replace bridges has seen a catastrophic decline. Those budget line items totaled about $445 million in fiscal 2013. This year, the amount was just $434 million — after a period of steady increases in costs for everything from asphalt to heavy equipment.

It shows. West Virginia’s highways are in serious disrepair. Too often, instead of crews working to repair slips, we see orange cones left to warn drivers of dangerous conditions.

Gov. Jim Justice’s administration has proposed a substantial tax increase to repair existing roads and bridges and build new ones. It includes a few increases in fees paid by vehicle owners.

But the primary source of an expected $136 million a year in additional revenue is an 8-cent per gallon increase in the tax on fuel.

Gasoline and diesel fuel taxes have been the primary source of road funds for decades. But the formula is bringing in less money now than it did before, for the simple reason that it is calculated on a per-gallon basis. Cars and trucks that go farther on a gallon of fuel mean less tax revenue.

Legislators should go along with the governor’s plan — with one concrete stipulation:

Politicians love new roads and bridges. They are opportunities to get their pictures taken during ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

There is no such hoopla after a crew finishes repairing a slip or repaving a stretch of pothole-pocked highway.

But that is what we need. Money raised by the higher tax and fees should be dedicated first to repairing what roads and bridges we have. Then, if additional funding is available, we can move on to new construction.

No one likes higher taxes. But before you reject the idea out of hand, take a drive.

Then pick up the phone and tell your legislators you’re willing to pay a few cents more for fuel in order to restore our roads and bridges to passable, safe condition