Early Voting Begins on $1.6B Road Bond Referendum in West Virginia
WHEELING — Early voting on a $1.6 billion road bond referendum in West Virginia began Friday, and the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce is telling residents to vote “yes.”
The chamber this week polled members of its executive board on the matter, and all said they were in favor of the bond referendum.
Andy McKenzie, a former Wheeling mayor and state senator, is the current chairman of the board for the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce.
“As a business organization, any time we have the opportunity to invest in infrastructure and be able to enhance the quality of life and safety of our area, we have to be very supportive,” McKenzie said.
“This road bond referendum does not increase future taxes, but is based on current revenues. I see no concerns about a tax.”
McKenzie said he feels comfortable with comments from Gov. Jim Justice that there will be no tolling on Interstate 70 in Ohio County as a result of a $172 million bridge revitalization project on the list ofwork set to be funded if voters approve the road bond referendum.
He also remembers a similar referendum being passed in the late 1990s under former Gov. Cecil Underwood.
“Because of that, there was more money spent on W.Va. 2 the next year than there was the 20 years before,” McKenzie said. “All the work north of Warwood to the dam was paid for by those bonds. This is not the first time we have done this, and Ohio and Brooke and Hancock counties were significant winners that time.”
The $172 million bridge project in Ohio County is the largest project on the West Virginia Division of Highways’ list of proposed projects that would begin if the referendum passes, and McKenzie said the county “has much to lose if these road bonds fail.”
Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, is president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce.
“As a member-based chamber organization, we obviously want the public to have the ability to have access to businesses and decent roads,” Storch said. “We think we should stand behind this and show our support.”
Storch was one of only eight House members who voted against the legislation establishing the road bond referendum, and she expressed her concerns then about the potential for tolling Interstate 70 in Ohio County to pay for the bridge rehabilitation project.
Justice said this week in Wheeling he does not believe tolling would be necessary to pay for projects if the referendum is approved by voters.
Storch said she is still considering whether she will vote for the referendum.
“I’ve thought about it, and the bond referendum and the tolling are separate issues,” she said.
Local election officials didn’t expect polls to be busy on the first day of early voting for the Oct. 7 special election, and they weren’t disappointed by low turnout numbers on the first day. Some said they actually were surprised by how many did come out to vote.
In Ohio County, 64 early ballots were submitted on Friday.
At about 4 p.m., Marshall County reported having 58 voters; Wetzel County, 40; Hancock County, 37; Tyler County, 31; and Brooke County, 19.
“I figured there would be a low turnout,” said Pam Northcraft, elections clerk in Brooke County. “But I thought we would have a little more.”
None of the counties reported having voters waiting at the door for the start of early voting, although Hancock County had its first voter “within the first 15 minutes,” according to elections clerk Jeannie Ostrander.
“I’m kind of excited,” she said. “We had more than I thought we would.”
Ohio County pollworkers cheered when the 64th voter of the day came in just before the close of voting at 5 p.m. Ohio County Coordinator of Elections Toni Chieffalo said she had anticipated only about 50 would turn out on Friday to cast ballots.
Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at all local county courthouses, but Chieffalo doesn’t expect many voters to come out on a West Virginia University Mountaineers football game day.
Early voting is available at all county courthouses during normal business hours on weekdays through Oct. 4, as well as from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. next Saturday, Sept. 30.