State Senators crossing party lines to support road bond vote

 Senator Bob Beach (D - Monongalia, 13)
Senator Bob Beach (D – Monongalia, 13)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Two state senators are working across party lines in West Virginia’s northern district in support of the October 7 road bonds referendum.

“We’re addressing the roads that have been neglected because of a lack of funding,” Senator Bob Beach (D – Monongalia, 13) said Monday on WAJR’s Morgantown AM. “And, again, that comes back to what the Blue Ribbon Commission found out — that we were lacking $1.5 billion additional dollars to catch up and get ahead of the problems we have out there.”

Senator Charles Clements (R – Wetzel, 02) said one of the reasons for his support is the amount of infrastructure money this will pour into highly rural areas.

“We’re working together with this,” Clements said in the joint interview. “This is for West Virginia. It’s not for Democrats or Republicans. It’s for West Virginia, and we need it.”

Beach said infrastructure has been an issue since well before the report of the Blue Ribbon Commission — which suggested that one-third of the state’s highway system was in poor condition.

“The big question has been all along, how do we get to the point where we pay for these bonds?” Bob Beach said. “That’s what we were able to accomplish this last session with the increase in the gas tax, the increase with the DMV fees, and the privilege tax.

Clements and Beach agreed that the state had been playing from behind for several years, and that a successful bond issue on October 7 could help the state play catch up. The current available list of projects supports $230 million worth of infrastructure improvements in Monongalia County. In Wetzel County, it supports an $80 million widening project.

“A lot of it gets right down to this, do you want our money now or do we want to get that money spread and try to do all these road projects over 25 or 30 years?” Clements said.

Beach said he wanted to see the paving cycle, which had increased from around 10 or 12 years to 25 years from when he first entered the Legislature, reduce down to an eight-year cycle.

“What’s unique about passing this bond issue is that allows the money we already have in the Department of Highway to be used for maintenance,” Beach said. “Right now we’re trying to do everything that with that one pool of money. We’re trying to build new roads, address the decaying problems we have with our bridges.”

Beach said voters have a choice: authorize the use of new revenues from taxes raised during the 2017 regular legislative session or balk at a chance for an infrastructure overhaul.

“Those issues are behind us now. Those have been passed. Those are in order right now being collected in the communities as we speak.”

Clements offered his support for the bond in spite of the overwhelming vote against the bond by the GOP’s state executive committee earlier this month.

“I’m at a total loss as to why they did that,” he said.

Charles Clements (R - Wetzel, 02)
Charles Clements (R – Wetzel, 02)

Clements went on that he understood a desire to stick by what Republicans consider “core, conservative values,” but he said that the timing was odd.

As proposed, funding for the bonds would come from tax and fee increases the Legislature approved earlier this year. Those changes went into effect July 1.

“All these road projects continue to go up, and we have just been flat as far as our highway income is concerned,” Clements said. “So we just get further and further behind.”

Early voting ahead of the Oct. 7 road bond election begins on Sept. 22 and runs through Oct. 4. The deadline to register to vote is Sept. 18.

A list of projects identified Monday morning included the following in Monongalia and Wetzel County:

County Road Improvement Length Cost
Monongalia U.S. 119 Mileground Donna Ave to CR 857, Airport to Easton 0.59 miles $15 million
Monongalia Greenbag Road Improve intersection and widen Kingwood Pike to White Park $16 million
Monongalia West Run Improvements Improve intersection and widen jct CR 67 – jct US 119 $13 million
Monongalia VanVoorhis Road Improvements Widen, improve drainage, add sidewalk jct CR 67/1 to jct CR 60 $11 million
Monongalia Beechurst Avenue Spot improvement Improve intersection and widen 6th to 8th St $8 million
Monongalia I-79 Star City I/C Improvements Construct Directional Ramps and Improve Chaplin Hill Road $40 million
Monongalia US 119 Mileground Widen existing roundabout to airport Cheat Rd – Donna Ave $27 million
Monongalia I-79 Access to Morgantown Construct new connector from I-79 to Morgantown TBD $100 million
Wetzel WV 2 Widening Widen to four lanes Proctor to Kent $80 million