Early voting on referendum begins

WHEELING — Early voting in a special election to determine the fate of $1.9 billion in proposed road projects across West Virginia begins today, two days after Gov. Jim Justice made two stops in the Northern Panhandle to drum up support for his “Roads to Prosperity Highway Program” statewide referendum.

Monday was the last day for those not already on the rolls to register to vote in the special election, scheduled for Oct. 7. But local elections officials say their offices have seen very little activity, and they believe much of the public remains unaware of the upcoming special election.

“There has not been any excitement yet,” said Brooke County Clerk Sylvia Benzo. “There will be a town hall meeting on Wednesday. … Maybe after that, there will be some excitement. I mean, if we have to float out that much money, I hope people come out one way or the other to vote.”

Toni Chieffalo, coordinator of elections in Ohio County, said she has received only “a few” new voter registrations from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office that were submitted online.

She said when she is out in the community, people often ask her, “Aren’t you glad there isn’t an election this year?”

“I tell them there is,” Chieffalo said. “I think people still don’t know there’s an election coming up.”

All voting in the single-issue special election will be conducted on paper ballots.

The referendum will ask voters whether they will permit the West Virginia Legislature to authorize the sale of $1.6 billion in general obligation bonds over the next four years, and funds generated would be use to begin about $1.9 billion in highway improvements across the state.

The most expensive item on the list of proposed projects to start is a $172 million plan to rehabilitate the bridges on Interstate 70 in Ohio County. Another $80 million would be spent to widen state Route 2 to four lanes between Proctor and Kent in Marshall County.

A proposed project would relocate and widen state Route 2 through New Cumberland at a cost of $11 million.

Marshall County would see an additional $56 million in upgrades, including improvements to state Route 88 and U.S. 250, road paving in Mozart, bridge replacement and widening near the McDonald Upper Plaza, drainage work on state Route 2, replacement of the Kausooth Bridge on Fish Creek; and various pavement rehabilitation and slip repair projects.