Highways, Bridges Are State’s Duty

There is a reason the agency responsible for maintaining and building roads and bridges in our state is called the West Virginia Division of Highways. It is because, many years ago, the decision was made that efficiency dictated placing the state in charge of nearly all highways and bridges.

Going backwards makes little, if any, sense. Yet members of a commission formed to look for solutions to the state’s highway and bridge funding shortfall seem to be suggesting that.

Members of the Blue Ribbon Highway Commission appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin spent months studying transportation infrastructure needs and funding sources. That included public hearings throughout the state.

Mountain State residents have known for some time that the government is not receiving enough money to maintain existing roads and bridges adequately and build needed new ones. The shortfall is hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Commission members told a gathering of reporters Monday that the Legislature should consider new funding sources, such as higher taxes on fuel.

But in addition, state officials ought to look at relying more on counties for roads and bridges, members of the panel said.

In some very, very limited circumstances, that may make sense. But as a broad policy change it would be foolish.

Few counties have extra money lying around for roads and bridges. That is supposed to be the state’s responsibility, after all.

Placing part of the task back on the counties would force many to increase local property taxes. That is not a good solution to state leaders’ dilemma of being reluctant to raise taxes at that level.

Road funding is among the knottiest of problems facing state officials. They should not attempt to dodge it by dumping part of the burden back on county governments.