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Group aims to keep West Virginia moving

October 24, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A "perfect storm" of inflating construction costs and a leveling of revenues traditionally earmarked for road construction in West Virginia in recent years has helped bring together a large coalition of business and community leaders to urge state leaders to develop lasting solutions.

On Monday, West Virginians for Better Transportation, a statewide group of more than 120 organizations and companies, brought its "Keep West Virginia Moving" public information campaign to Martinsburg as part of an education outreach effort that has included stops in the West Virginia cities of Charleston, Beckley and Morgantown.

"We're not going to advocate funding mechanisms," said coalition member Mike Clowser, the executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia.

"The coalition is not (in Martinsburg) to sway legislators that are currently in place," he said.

Clowser was joined by coalition chairman Joe Deneault, Ted Bostic, a longtime advocate of constructing W.Va. 9, Jane Peters of the Jefferson County Development Authority and state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, who said he was invited by the group to speak at the event. Unger chairs the Senate Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

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"While substantial progress and improvements have been made during the past several decades, West Virginia's surface transportation system faces serious challenges now and in the coming years," Deneault said in a news release.

Deneault cited a West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) study that indicates the state will need at least $20 billion (in today's dollars) for 170 projects over the next 20 years to meet the state's surface transportation needs. The top three priority projects on the list are in the Eastern Panhandle, including parts of W.Va. 9 and Interstate 81.

Clowser cited a presentation to lawmakers last week in Charleston by a West Virginia University professor who indicated a study by the university has shown available money for road construction has not kept up with inflation since 1994.

"Unless you have a pothole in front of your house, you don't really think about the road system," Clowser said.

Tapping information provided by state highway officials, Deneault noted that 27 percent of West Virginia's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and that even more bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

After the press conference, Unger said all of the reforms made to make the state more business-friendly than most will be for naught if state leaders do not pay attention to infrastructure.

"We're not going to be able to sustain our economic development," said Unger, who favors moving away from the state's reliance on the gas tax for road construction. Along with federal dollars, other state revenues for road construction are generated through privilege taxes and vehicle registration fees.




On the Web

More information about West Virginians for Better Transportation is available at www.keepwvmoving.org

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