In light of the stunning failure of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s much-hyped Blue Ribbon Highway Commission, it is now clear that lawmakers will have to start from scratch when it comes to searching for solutions to the vast highway needs of the Mountain State.
Members of the ill-fated Blue Ribbon Highway Commission had not only the audacity to recommend a turnpike toll increase, but also inexplicably proposed a continuation of turnpike tolls after 2019, when the original bond indebtedness is paid in full. That proposal is a slap in the face to all residents and business owners living in the deep south counties. Adding further insult to injury is the fact that the commission has proposed a number of tax increases without exploring cost savings within the West Virginia Division of Highways or innovations in how we maintain and build roads.
That’s why we welcome the announcement of a forward-thinking group of Mountain State lawmakers who are planning to meet with members of the Virginia General Assembly to learn more about recent highway innovations and cost-saving measures implemented by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Minority Chairman Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, and Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, all members of the West Virginia House Committee on Roads and Transportation, are planning to meet with Virginia Speaker of the House William Howell, R-Fredericksburg, as part of a fact-finding mission to the state capitol in Richmond, Va.
We think the joint meeting between the West Virginia and Virginia-side lawmakers is an excellent idea. And we would encourage more lawmakers to participate in this session, including lawmakers from Mercer County — a region directly and adversely impacted by the 88-mile toll road. We also would like to see a few Democrats participate in this regional fact-finding mission. It will, after all, take a bipartisan approach to solve the many transportation needs of the Mountain State. And if there is anything we have learned from the mess in Washington, it is that Democrats and Republicans must learn how to work together.
“We see Virginia addressing many of the same highway construction, maintenance and funding problems we face in West Virginia,” Cowles said. “The difference is they came up with common-sense, cost-saving solutions. Some are ideas that may work here, ideas that the Blue Ribbon Commission failed to consider.”
We agree. We find the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission to be both unacceptable and appalling. It is clear that the commission has failed in its mission to come up with common-sense and workable solutions. The poorly conceived commission recommendations must be shelved.
At the same time, we are glad to see that some lawmakers are willing to think outside the box when it comes to addressing the transportation needs of the Mountain State. It is easy to just raise tolls; coming up with real solutions instead of failed ideas takes leadership.
Meeting with our neighbors in Virginia is an innovative and welcomed approach. There is much lawmakers in West Virginia can learn from the business-friendly Commonwealth of Virginia.
Under the administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell, the Commonwealth Transportation Board has made strides in the development of the Coalfields Expressway in deep Southwest Virginia, particularly through the use of public-private partnerships with coal company partners. The process has saved the state millions of dollars in construction costs.
Cowles, Espinosa and Howell are to be applauded for their innovative approach, and their willingness to reach out to their Virginia-side neighbors. More lawmakers should follow their lead.