Road Bond Vote Is Set For Saturday
Gus Suwaid, West Virginia Department of Transportation’s District Engineer for District Six, maintains that an Oct. 7 vote in favor of road bond referendum will not raise taxes.
“The purpose of the referendum is to allow us to borrow, sell bonds, and access bigger projets. This is one aspect of the governor’s Roads to Prosperity program,” Suwaid said Sept. 26, to an audience of area residents. Suwaid gave a presentation at the New Martinsville City Building, concerning the referendum. West Virginia State Senator Charles Clements (R-W.Va.), who endorses the road bond referendum, helped organize the presentation, and introduced Suwaid.
An Oct. 7 vote in favor of the referendum would allow the sale of $1.6 billion in bonds over four years for road improvement projects across the state.
Governor Jim Justice previously has said the Oct. 7 road bond referendum is the “single biggest vote West Virginia has ever made in the state’s history.” Justice said the projects would create around 48,000 jobs and result in $2.4 billion in roadwork and maintenance.
Suwaid said improvements are already being made to the state’s roads due to new extra funds from DMV fees, gas tax, and privilege tax revenues. Suwaid said an estimated $130 million from these extra revenue sources will be used to pay the bond sale.
Previously, Thomas Smith – Cabinet Secretary for the West Virginia Department of Transportation – said larger road projects would begin in early spring of 2018.
Smith had said that 2/3 of the “Roads to Prosperity” vision comes from the bonds; Smith stressed that now is the perfect time to issue the bonds, due to lower interest rates.
Meanwhile, using the bonds for roadwork – and the $130 million to pay the bonds – would free up some of the $1.2 billion the state receives each year in federal monies, Suwaid said on Tuesday.
“The larger road projects have been holding the budget hostage for years,” Suwaid said. He said if the road bond referendum passes, “our $1.2 billion a year is free and can help with lesser priority routes.”
As of right now, the first $130 million received has gone directly to road work, including improvements to Route 20.
Residents had many questions for Suwaid regarding the road bond referendum. One resident inquired as to whether state DOT workers would receive raises as a result of the passage of the referendum. Suwaid said he did not know whether this would happen or not. He said improving the financial situation could bring improvement in other areas, but added that he did not know of an answer.
Another resident stated that on a local level, the DOH department is not fairing well. He argued that at one point, the local detachment employed 18 people. Now the detachment is down to six or seven individuals. Furthermore, the resident said, the department has dealt with a faulty mower, and needs a backup mower.
“How is not voting for the road bond referendum going to help those employees?” Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Haught inquired.
In another matter, Suwaid said if the bonds are approved, the state DOH would be able to expedite other projects, including secondary road projects. Department of Transportation District Six Engineering Gus Suwaid has previously said that without the vote for the referendum, and without the General Obligation Bonds, the $100 million Secondary State Local Service Roads program is cancelled.
The best known “general bond” project for the Wetzel County area is the WV 2 Widening project, where the road would be widened to four lanes from Proctor to Kent. Secondary road projects, that could be expedited if the referendum passes, are the following:WV 7 Safety Improvements, Renners Bridge (Replace), Van Camp Bridge (Minor Rehab), Galmish Bridge (Minor Rehab), Wade Bridge (Replace), Slide Repair, NHS Pavement Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, and Non-NHS Pavement Reconstruction and Rehabilitation.
A few residents, at the Sept. 26 presentation, expressed criticism of the WV 2 Widening project. One resident noted that the widening project has been embraced by Clements for years, yet inferenced that bigger problems with roads are found in cities such as New Martinsville, Paden City, and Sistersville.
Clements noted that the widening would affect Wetzel County in that it would encourage development in the areas along the river. This would lead to jobs. Clements said a four-lane would be more attractive to developers of an ethane hub, or a cracker plant.
“This is not about my road,” Clements said of his endorsement of a four-lane. “These are our roads.”
Clements reiterated that passing the road bond referendum would allow the state to use its other sources of funding – such as general funds and federal funds – for other areas of concern in the state.
Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Haught, who was at the Sept. 26 presentation, likened the $1.6 billion in bonds to “an economic stimulus.”
“You’ve injected $1.6 billion in four years,” he said.
Clements agreed and continued, noting that the Route 2 widening is important to Wetzel County, as it needs to prepare for future gas industry development.
“We need to get ready,” he said.
“There are no new taxes, and the passage creates immediate jobs, construction jobs.”
It was noted that if the referendum doesn’t pass, state lawmakers will have to “reshuffle the deck,” and use federal funding toward priority projects. Furthermore, projects put on hold will cost more in the future, as construction costs rise.
A passage of the measure would mean that “every West Virginia worker capable of having a job, will have one,” according to Clements.
Previously, proponents of the road bond referendum have stated that 48,000 jobs will be created as a result of the passage of the measure. During a Sept. 14 teleconference – that included newspapers throughout the state – Governor Jim Justice said it would be difficult to find 48,000 construction workers in the state. However, he had stressed the importance of getting technical schools involved in the initiative, though he also said some of the jobs would allow for on-the-job training.
“The reality is that some jobs will be filled by out-of-state workers. We will try to fill every job with a West Virginia worker though,” Justice had said.
Justice stated that it would be frivolous to consider out-of-state workers a bad thing though, as these workers would invest in the state through payroll tax, grocery and gasoline purchases, and hotel fees.
Furthermore, Justice said, folks might come “home” to West Virginia, with the influx of jobs available.
As to concerns of building new roads, instead of rehabilitating, Suwaid responsed that dedicating a massive amount of capital to the roads means “less future maintenance.” Furthermore, Suwaid said, funds will be dedicated to secondary roads and maintenance.
Clements agreed: “It’s important to realize that these roads mean our future,” he said.
Representatives from several state organizations and associations, along with state officials, have voiced their support for the road bond referendum, including Chelsea Ruby, West Virginia Tourism Commissioner; Chris Hamilton, West Virginia Business and Industry Council and the West Virginia Coal Association; Mike Clowser, Contractors Association of West Virginia; Steve White, Affiliated Construction Trades of West Virginia; and Carol Fulks, West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association.
The West Virginia Education Association Executive Committee voted unanimously to support the “Roads to Prosperity” program. This measure is also supported by the Executive Committee of the Wetzel County Education Association.
“We see this as an essential step in moving our state forward,” said Elliot Kendle, WVEA Executive Committee member and WCEA Co-President.
According to statement from the Wetzel County Commission, the commission “endorses the Road Bond Referendum for better roads for West Virginia.”
The statement said that “although the program will not solve all our problems in Wetzel County, it is a huge step forward in improving our highways and bridges. If the road bond fails, costs will greatly increase and the time to fix the roads will be delayed many more years. We urge everyone to vote YES on October 7.”
Delegate Dave Pethtel, Delegate for the state’s fifth district, agrees with the sentiments of the WCEA and the commission:
“I encourage voters to support the Roads to Prosperity Amendment. This will not cost the taxpayers one penny more, as the fees have already been approved to pay for these road projects,” Pethtel said.
He continued, “The Roads to Prosperity Amendment is part of a comprehensive repair plan for West Virginia roads and infrastructure. These funds will provide significant money to the State Road Fund to work on many important road repair projects in each of our state’s 55 counties.”
“Our citizens need safe roads to go to school, to work, and to carry out their daily lives. Our businesses need reliable roads to ship goods in and out of the state. Our economy needs new roads to attract more visitors and more industry.
“The passage of this Road Bond Amendment will create thousands of jobs fast. These construction jobs will start putting wages in the pockets of West Virginians and money in the businesses of our state.
“Thanks to a state law called the West Virginia Jobs Act, 75 percent of the workers are required to come from the local labor market area. The local labor market area is defined as all of West Virginia and any county in a surrounding state within 50 miles of the border.
“In my opinion, the Roads to Prosperity Amendment is a win for everyone. Vote “yes” on Saturday, October 7th.”
A complete list of the “Road to Prosperity” projects is available at www.transportation.wv.gov