Approximately 80 community members - including private citizens, students and public officials - attended the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways' public input session on Corridor H Thursday at the Days Inn in Elkins.
The meeting, designed to gather public input on how to fund Corridor H and other highway and transportation projects, was the ninth held across the state this month. The event also marked the first-year anniversary of the creation of the commission.
"Roads are the lifeblood of the state and are essential for increased economic growth," said Jan Vineyard of the Blue Ribbon Commission.
Vineyard explained that West Virginia has the sixth largest state-maintained highway network. The Mountain State is ranked 32nd in highway performance and efficiency and 47th in highway fatalities, he said.
Residents attending the meeting were surveyed about various methods that would help fund the improvements and construction of various infrastructure projects, including building and restoring roads, highways and bridges across the state.
The survey results were collected electronically in real time and were displayed on screen to show how the audience responded.
The proposed ideas included increasing sales tax, as well as taxes on automobile parts and service and higher fuel taxes. Another proposition called for higher taxes for alternative vehicles such as hybrid or electric cars.
There was some support at the meeting for a statewide infrastructure bank and the implementation of tax increment financing (or TIF), a public financing method that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure and other community improvement projects.
"The reception for the TIF was pretty surprising," said Del. Bill Hartman, D-Randolph. "We've seen a lot of good come from those programs, and though reception was mostly positive (52 percent), I figured it would be greater."
"I was surprised by some of the comments, particularly regarding the amount of support for increased taxes," said Del. Denise Campbell D-Randolph. "I think it proves that this is a major issue that the public is genuinely concerned about.
"We have to have good roads to increase economic development." Campbell added. "We need to give them the attention that they need. If we want to welcome people to West Virginia then we need good roads for them to drive on."
Some residents communicated concerns about the lack of federal help offered for strengthening the state's infrastructure.
"We need to figure out a way to be able to fund this on our own as a state," said Robbie Morris, executive director of the Randolph County Development Authority. "Infrastructure is crucial, particularly in Randolph County. Being a by-way for a lot of tourism in the area, good, quality roads say a lot about the area."
Morris also emphasized that it is estimated Corridor H would create some 80,000 jobs when completed, a figure that was a focal point for many of the audience, including Pat Parsons, who works in the paving industry.
"This is a jobs issue," Parsons said. "This is a great opportunity for employment. But more than that West Virginians need to know how unique their highway system is."
Many in attendance agreed that a solid highway system is not only good news for the Mountain State but also for those surrounding it.
"We are a day's drive from a large portion of the national population," explained Bill Smith, executive director of Tucker County's Chamber of Commerce. "But we have to be responsible. Everybody in the state uses these roads and we shouldn't put the pain on only one industry, but rather spread the responsibility equally to all."
The WVBRC is also allowing people to fill out the survey online until Aug. 25. To take the survey online or to learn more about the West Virginia Blue Ribbon Commission, go to www.wvbrc.com.
Contact Chad Clem by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.