Call issued to put road bonds on ballot

CHARLESTON – A House Roads and Transportation Committee chairwoman said Thursday she will seek a ballot measure authorizing $2.1 billion in bonds for road repairs and construction.

Margaret Staggers announced the idea as a Washington-based group largely funded by highway construction interests released a report detailing the state’s deteriorating road conditions.

“I’m asking that this be on the 2014 ballot so that we can just get ahead. Let’s get ‘er done,” Staggers, D-Fayetteville, said at a news conference attended by dozens of road construction workers. “The people of West Virginia will decide do we want good roads or not? Of course they do, but it’s up to us to sell it.”

She said she is working on a bill now to place the question on the ballot.

Senate President Jeffrey Kessler also attended the news conference, but said it was the first time he’s heard about the idea to put a highway spending proposal before voters. He did, however, say that the need for road repair and construction has reached an emergency level and right now there’s no way to pay for the work.

“We don’t have a billion dollars sitting around spare in a bank account anywhere,” he said. “Somebody’s got to pay for it. If the people vote that they’re willing to pay for it, then that’s fine – they have decided that they’re willing to pay a little extra to take care of the roads that are so critical to taking care of their communities, their cities, their homes, their jobs and their businesses.”

In the long term, Kessler, D-Glen Dale, said his idea of a trust fund created through a portion of natural gas industry taxes could eventually help pay for road projects.

The report released by TRIP, a nonprofit group funded by insurance and highway construction interests, said 12 percent of West Virginia’s major roads are in poor condition and 35 percent of the state’s bridges need repairs.