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The long awaited report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways was released earlier today, Wednesday, May 20, 2015. The 58-page report containing recommendations on infrastructure improvement and funding was approved by members of the commission and will now go to the Governor and the Joint Legislative Committee on Tax Reform for further review. 

“I’ve been extremely honored to be a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways,” said Jan Vineyard, chair of the commission’s Legislative & Public Outreach committee who represented the West Virginia Business & Industry Council on the commission. “The commission spent extensive time studying the issues surrounding our crumbling infrastructure and the funding shortfalls with which we are faced with. The release of this report is an important first step to understanding the critical need for infrastructure improvement, facing our funding challenges and addressing the next steps needed to improve our state’s roadways and bridges.”

Three Main Points of the Blue Ribbon Commission Report:

  • The commission determined the need for action to improve, repair and replace roads and bridges in West Virginia is crucial and extensive. Our state’s deteriorating infrastructure is in need of critical improvements which create an immense funding challenge. 
  • The current revenue streams and mechanisms that provide funding to our state’s road and infrastructure are inadequate and obsolete. The need for new and innovative sources of revenue, innovative financing methods, and cost efficiencies to fund our state’s infrastructure is immediate and action must occur now. We can’t kick the proverbial can down the road any longer. The Legislature’s joint committee on tax reform presents a great opportunity to address these needs and to take immediate action.= 
  • The citizens of West Virginia understand the problems associated with our roads and current funding shortfalls. They are willing to step up to and do their part to create the revenue to improve our infrastructure. The people of our state know that better infrastructure leads to better economic opportunities. Highways and bridges are important to West Virginians and simply doing nothing to improve them is no longer acceptable.

Brief Commission Report Summary 

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways was formed after Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed an executive order in August of 2012. The thirty-one member commission; comprised of legislators, state agency officials, business leaders, members of academia and other community stakeholders, spent most of 2013 studying information and listening to the testimony of many West Virginians.

West Virginia is one of only four states responsible for all road and bridge maintenance and repair, excluding municipal roads; while having the sixth largest state-maintained highway system in the nation.  The report indicates that more than one-third of the roadways in West Virginia’s highway system are considered to be in poor condition, while nearly 35% of our state’s 7,000 bridges need repaired or replaced. The study also shows that West Virginia’s deteriorating roadways cost motorists more than $400 million annually in extra vehicle maintenance and operation, or more than $300 annually to the average West Virginia motorist. 

The report concludes that while improvements to our state’s infrastructure are critical, it would take an additional $1.13 billion in funding to adequately maintain and improve our roadways. The report points out two significant factors prohibiting notable improvement: a stagnant State Road Fund that can’t keep up with inflation; and the lack of a long-term funding solution from Congress via the national Federal Highway Trust Fund, which accounts for 34% of our state’s road repair and maintenance funding.

The funding shortcomings leave the state searching for ways to generate additional streams of revenue. The commission makes a number of recommendations to increase the current avenues of revenue and to also seek out new streams of funding:

  • Motor vehicle sales tax – Increase the motor vehicle sales tax form 5% to 6% to match the consumer sales and use tax.
  • Registration fees – Increase DMV registration and motor vehicle licensing fees and index for inflation, adjusted bi-annually to the Consumer Price Index.
  • Alternative fuel vehicle registration fee – Assess an annual registration fee on alternative fuel vehicles.
  • Other tax revenue – Dedicate the consumer sales and use tax revenue already collected form purchases associated with cars and trucks, e.g. automobile parts, batteries, brakes, services, etc. to the State Road Fund

The Commission's revenue recommendations listed above would generate an estimated $141 million in additional annual funding, still much lower than the $1.13 billion that is said to be needed; though a key recommendation of the Commission is to maintain the current structure of Parkways past 2019 and that Parkways issue up to $1 billion in bonds for road projects statewide which would be backed by future increases in toll revenue. These actions will go a long way toward provided increase funding to improve our infrastructure.

While the report is an important starting point to move the conversation and action forward, the report admits that the recommendations of the commission do not solve all of the problems facing West Virginia’s crumbling infrastructure nor do they provide the answer to fully fund solutions. With the formation of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Tax Reform and releasing this report to Governor Tomblin, it provides an opportune time for him to encourage the Joint Committee to further work toward funding our highways and bridges.

To review the Blue Ribbon Commission Report in its entirety you may visit the link below:

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