By JESSICA M. KARMASEK
CHARLESTON – Two Republican West Virginia state senators are suggesting adding a toll to a stretch of interstate in the state’s eastern Panhandle to shore up lacking federal highway funds.
Sens. Chris Walters of Putnam County and Daniel Hall of Wyoming County said in recent interviews with the Charleston Daily Mail and Transportation and Infrastructure Daily adding a toll to a 20-plus-mile portion of Interstate 81 could benefit the state.
“It’s a major thoroughfare,” Hall said.
However, under federal law, a toll cannot be added to an interstate unless it is improved or expanded.
But Walters and Hall argue that something needs to be done, given the federal government’s inability to hash out long-term federal highway legislation.
The last major transportation bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act was worth $286.4 billion and expired in September 2009.
Then, in 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21. But the $105 billion bill expired in September 2014. Congress enacted a temporary extension, but that only runs until the end of the month.
No doubt feeling the pressure, the U.S. House of Representatives last week approved a bill that would extend funding for the federal Highway Trust Fund – which reimburses states for the cost of highway and mass transit projects – until July 31.
“We went from having more than $600 million in road paving funds in the late '90s to below $300 million now,” Walters, who serves as the chair of the state Senate’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and vice chair of the Finance Committee, told TI Daily.
“We were once on a 12-year paving cycle and due to lack of funding we’ve had to increase that to a 33-year cycle.”
Even the state’s gas tax – considered one of the highest in the nation – isn’t helping, he told the publication.
According to the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, which was released this month, West Virginia needs an additional $1 billion a year to meets its transportation needs.