Funding Repairs To Area Roads

Roads — specifically the deplorable ones plaguing many Northern Panhandle residents — need to be a focus during the annual 60-day session of the West Virginia Legislature, Delegate Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall, told our reporter. He is absolutely right about that.

While the state’s massive “Roads to Prosperity” campaign proceeds, many secondary roads continue to lack the attention they require. Much of “Roads to Prosperity,” fueled by $1.6 billion in bonds approved by voters, focuses on new highways and bridges and repairs to heavily used ones such as Interstate 70.

Canestraro put his finger on the problem: “It’s a combination of things that are affecting them,” he said of secondary roads in our area. “It’s not only the weather. There’s more truck traffic on secondary roads because of oil and gas activity in the district. Also, there is a lack of funding to fix roads.”

Precisely.

A package of initiatives to address the situation is being suggested by Canestraro, who points out one component was suggested in the past by former delegate, now Marshall County Commissioner Mike Ferro.

Point one on Canestraro’s list appears to be a non-starter. He wants to provide more money for roads by increasing the oil and gas severance tax from the current 5 percent up to 7 percent. Such action could put West Virginia at a competitive disadvantage against other gas-rich states.

Another recommendation is to require oil and gas companies to pay annual $1 million “user fees” for their trucks. That, too, could put us at a competitive disadvantage.

Canestraro is right, however, that the current

“performance bond” system under which energy companies agree to repair roads their trucks have damaged is not working.

Why? Lawmakers should look into that question with an eye to correcting flaws in the performance bond mechanism.

Canestraro and, before him Ferro, are on the right track with another idea. It is that as much as $30 million in oil and gas severance tax revenue ought to be earmarked annually for counties where energy is being extracted. Counties such as ours, with roads crumbling in part because of heavy oil and gas industry trucks, deserve more money to keep highways in good repair.

That proposal should be pushed hard by legislators not just from our area, but also from other gas- and oil-producing counties. It makes sense — and it is the right thing to do.

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