According to State Sen. Mike Hall, on Monday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin introduced a new bill to both the House and Senate concerning the financing of U.S. 35.
The proposed bill enables the West Virginia Parkways Authority to sell bonds to the West Virginia Management Board to be placed in the PERS retirement system. The money will come from PERS to buy the bonds, and the bill authorizes $110,000,000 of bonds. According to Hall, the interest rate appears to adjust from time to time due to market conditions — the rate can be no less than five percent and no greater than 6 3/10 percent.
The bill also conveys that U.S. 35 would be a toll road with the collections going toward the payment of interest on bonds. If the toll funds prove to not be sufficient enough to pay the interest, than the West Virginia Infrastructure Fund would be accessed. According to Hall, the proposed bill can be amended — amendments could include tax credits as well as other measures that could mitigate against the cost of tolling U.S. 35 on both local businesses and commuters.
In response to the proposed bill, County Commissioner Rick Handley issued a statement regarding the financing of U.S. 35.
“Mason County people do not want a toll road. We deserve a new road without a toll. Here’s my very simple proposal: take the $65 million in Garvee Bonds that the state already said it would use for the road and can pay back, and put it with the $31 million in federal/state grant money we already have, and that equals $96 million,” Handley said. “It costs approximately $12.8 million to build a mile of road, assuming $187 million for 14.6 miles. So with that figure, seven and a half miles could be built now without a toll, leaving 7.1 miles to build in the near future.”
Mason County resident, Gene Zopp, who has been quite outspoken against the tolling of U.S. 35, said that he found many faults with Tomblin’s proposed bill.
“I would hope the Legislative bodies would see the danger of Tomblin's suggested action. If the toll road goes belly-up then the State Pension Fund suffers,” Zopp said. “When will these guys give up and build this road on a pay as we go basis as Ohio has done their portion of U.S. 35? The people of Mason County would prefer to leave the road as it is and wait for it to be gradually completed. Use the funds available and build as much as can be built. Parkways does not know how to pay for a road using tolling.”
Handley agreed that building the remaining 14.6 miles, which spans between Mason and Putnam Counties, as funds are available was a better option.
“The Congressional Transportation meeting held in Beckley last week told everyone that money from the federal level for roads was scarce at this time, and not to expect much in the near future. I am willing to risk, let’s say pessimistically, waiting 10 years to get money to build 7.1 miles of road in West Virginia and completing Rt. 35 and then have no tolls,” he said. “I’ll take the chance of waiting 10 years instead of tolling the road for more than 30 years in the future for our Mason County residents.”
According to Hall, once it’s introduced, a copy of the entire bill will be available on the West Virginia Republican Senate Facebook page.