ICYMI: Senator Bill Cole Passing The Buck On Fixing WV Roads

Curt Zickafoose Blog

ICYMI: Senator Bill Cole Passing The Buck On Fixing WV Roads

In today’s Exponent Telegram, you’ll see Senator Bill Cole was called out in a strong editorial for passing the buck on funding for roads.

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Exponent Telegram

September 15, 2015

Editorial: Road funding won’t be solved by passing the buck

At this point, with roads and bridges crumbling and lawmakers at an inpasse on how to fix the state’s failing road fund, we believe most residents are open to innovative ideas.

So we’ve listened carefully to those state leaders espousing new ideas to pave the way to better roads.

Just last week, Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer and a gubernatorial hopeful, was in Harrison County to talk with the West Virginia Business and Industry Council.

Since roads can be a major driver of, or roadblock for, economic development, Cole was quick to tackle the subject.

He believes that more responsibility for roads should fall to the counties, which is a common practice in other states. West Virginia is one of only four states that doesn’t share some road responsibilities with counties or townships.

“We maintain more miles of state road than virtually any state in the nation,” Cole said. “We don’t have anything called ‘CR.’ We don’t have anything called a county road in West Virginia. We need to send some of the roads back to the counties.”

Well, OK. We’re sure for state leaders, that sounds like a great idea. And on the surface, it appears to have some merit.

But there are a number of details that will need to be worked out long before the transfer of roadways can occur.

First, counties will need to have a funding source.

Cole and others believe it will be easier for county and city leaders to convince their constituents of the need for increased taxes to support road repairs than it has been for state leaders.

We have to wonder if this isn’t just another case of passing the buck.

There’s no guarantee that counties will have any better luck passing levies or bonds for road and bridge repair. Just look at the dismal percentage of county school bonds that pass in West Virginia.

State residents just seem to feel overtaxed and burdened with government at this point.

But funding is only one issue.

What about manpower and machines?

If counties take more road responsibilities, will the state Division of Highways transfer personnel and assets to county control?

Or will counties have to look for their own road workers and the vehicles needed for proper road repair and maintenance? Either way, it sounds like a costly and time-consuming proposition.

Another issue that would need resolved should counties take over roads would be how to handle areas that simply refuse to pass levies or bonds to provide the funding.

And in West Virginia, that’s quite possible.

Take, for instance, Monongalia County, where West Virginia University helps to drive an enormous economic train, and McDowell County, where the coal industry has dried up and people have left in droves.

We can see the people of Monongalia County passing road bonds and levies to improve their quality of life and economic climate.

But what about the people of McDowell and other struggling areas? Will they simply remain the land of the have-nots because they simply can’t afford to make improvements?

Suffice it to say, road funding and the potential of transferring some responsibility to counties need to be studied and discussed at length.

That’s especially true when you consider the controversy surrounding the Division of Highways amid allegations of mismanagement in some departments.

In the meantime, our roadways remain in a state of disrepair, symbolizing a failure of far too many for far too long — and a history of passing the buck.