One benefit of the worst winter in 35 years is it shined the spotlight on the long neglected problem of maintaining 37,000 miles of state highways.
West Virginia has the sixth-largest such system in the country, and given the terrain and four-season climate, maintenance is very expensive.
Gasoline taxes provide the bulk of the state’s money for roads. The rate of those taxes have not kept pace with inflation.
“There are demographic changes in West Virginia that are lowering the average number of miles driven annually. Nationally, we know the vehicle miles traveled per motorist is down about ten percent. We have these alternative-fueled vehicles that don’t contribute motor fuel excise taxes,” Tom Witt, professor of economics emeritus at West Virginia University, told Metronews.
Witt is a member of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, which suggested paying for road maintenance with increases in fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles, sales taxes from vehicle repairs and auto parts, continuing tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, better efficiencies in the road department, and passage of a road bond. The blue-ribbon panel has not issued its final report to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
These ideas are worthy of discussion, as is increasing the 54 cents per gallon in federal and state taxes on gasoline.
Each idea also has its flaws. After 60 years, residents want to end the Turnpike tolls. Also, raising an already high gasoline tax will lose more sales to neighboring states. And issuing a bond — borrowing money — in the long run diverts money from road construction and maintenance to interest on the bonds.
Still, officials must find a way for the third-oldest and second-poorest people in the nation to finance the care of the sixth-largest network of roads. Perhaps increases in road taxes can be offset by reductions in other taxes.
Everything needs to be on the table in discussing this.
— Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail