West Virginia Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said Monday he knows people are grousing about the poor condition of secondary roads statewide — even though state funding for repaving those roads has grown from $60 million to more than $200 million a year.
“Even in tripling it, there’s so much more to do, and we know that,” Smith told members of the House Finance Committee.
He noted that, in 2013, the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways found that the state needed to spend an additional $750 million a year on road repairs and maintenance (what the Division of Highways refers to as “preservation”).
Smith said that, ultimately, about $2 billion of $2.8 billion in road bonds will go for preservation, but that’s not enough to keep pace with needs.
“We’ve got this large backlog of preservation work that’s going along at $750 million a year of need that’s never been funded,” he said.
Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said he thinks most West Virginians believed that passage of the governor’s Roads to Prosperity bond referendum in 2017 would free up funds for repairs to secondary roads.
“Are we fulfilling the promise we made to our constituents with the bond issue?” Rowe asked.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Jim Justice pledged to shift more road bond funds to secondary roadwork, but Smith said Monday no dollar amount has been finalized.
“We’re working with the Governor’s Office, looking at options on that,” he said.
Smith said the division has about $200 million a year in new revenue from increases in the gas tax and DMV fees enacted in 2017, fees that ultimately will go to pay debt service on the road bond issues.
“The dollars we don’t need yet for debt service we’ve tried to place back into the secondary system,” he said.
Also during the budget presentation Monday, Smith said:
- Proposed 2019-20 operating budgets for most agencies under the Department of Transportation will be unchanged from the current budgets, except for more money to cover the $2,370 pay raise Justice has proposed for state employees.
- The department budget currently includes no funding for MARC rail service in the Eastern Panhandle.
For the first time, the Maryland Department of Transportation last year asked West Virginia to help underwrite the cost of the commuter rail service into the state, asking for $3.2 million, but ultimately accepting a $1.5 million supplemental appropriation.
“I really am concerned about MARC,” Smith said of Maryland’s current $3.2 million request. “We’d like to continue MARC service, but we’re finding very little ability at the local level to bring any dollars to the table.”