Participating in this morning's State House meeting of the Eastern Panhandle Legislators were Delegates Larry D. Kump, Mike Folk, Paul Espinosa, Larry Faircloth, Jason Barrett, Ruth Rowan, Daryl Cowles, John Overington, Eric Householder, Tiffany Lawrence, and Steven Skinner.
Our caucus meeting guest was West Virginia Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox, who also updated us on area road projects and fielded questions.
Secretary Mattox glumly announced that there currently are no new roads planned for West Virginia, including no improvements to Rt. 9 West of Martinsburg and Rt 522 in Morgan County, due to a serious lack of funding.
He explained that the aging and static population of West Virginia contributes to this problem, as well as the rising cost of road construction and our mountainous terrain.
According to the Secretary, West Virginia is hard put to even manage the decline of our current state road system, with repaving now on a twenty-eight year cycle, instead of the recommended twelve year cycle. He went on to say that "tar & chip" now even is being used on state road maintenance, instead of the more costly and more durable asphalt, and that the average age of our bridges is fifty years.
Mr. Mattox cited a current budget of $710 million, but said that another $750 million is needed just to properly maintain our existing state roads, and another $380 million would be needed for proposed new projects (It costs $200,000 per mile to build a new road).
He admitted that West Virginia already has one of the highest gasoline taxes in the country, even though that tax has not changed for the last ten years.
In response to concerns raised by Delegate Kump about driver safety issues on the I-81 construction at the Marlowe/Falling Waters exit, the Secretary promised to investigate that issue. He also confessed that an I-81 "bottleneck" will remain at the I-81 bridge over the Potomac River and beyond, since Maryland owns the Potomac River and is responsible for I-81 from that point northward into Maryland.
Meanwhile, the Governor has a "Blue Ribbon Committee" investigating our Mountaineer highways, and it is speculated that a special session of the Legislature might be called during this Summer to address this problem.