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Local roads bill OK'd by W.Va. Senate

February 27, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The West Virginia Senate paved the way for local governments to raise funds for road projects on their own, as part of an effort to address expected decreases in state and federal funding for roads, amid diminishing returns from gas tax revenues.

On Friday, the Senate approved a bill, called the West Virginia Community Empowerment Transportation Act, which was originated in the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier this month, that would create a state Transportation Authority to review financing proposals assembled by county commissions to pay for highway construction and improvement projects, said committee chairman, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

Unger, who helped sponsor the measure, said the adoption by the state's Division of Highways of a six-year plan for funding priority projects and anticipated losses in revenue from the gas tax, slated to end in 2007, will mean localities will have to move away from "an entitlement culture" that relies on the state to fund their road projects.

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"We desperately need that because there's no pennies from heaven falling from the state," Unger said Friday. "This allows for the communities to be participants in the construction of new roads and the expansion of existing roads."

The bill would allow county commissions to impose costs such as infrastructure user fees to pay for highway construction bonds or apply tax increment financing to fund road construction projects, if approved by voters through referendum, Unger said.

"County commissions cannot on their own vote for user fees; it must be put on the ballot," he said.

Road projects don't come cheap in Berkeley County, where the price for purchasing land for roads and right-of-ways continues to climb.

According to a Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan for the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Area, two projects recommended for near-term implementation in southern Berkeley County, the widening of W.Va. 51 to five lanes from the Interstate 81 interchange east to U.S. 11 and the realignment of W.Va. 51 from U.S. 11 east towards the Sulphur Springs Road intersection would cost a combined $8.8 million.

Statewide, as many as 170 projects have been identified in West Virginia, costing about $20 billion, Unger said.

"We're not going to be able to do these projects unless we do this," Unger said.

The bill is expected to be reported to the House of Delegates this week, Unger said.

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