The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 15, 2014

U.S. official talks about road woes

Partisan gridlock threatens projects

CHARLESTON — Congress must put together a long-term highway and transit aid package or else it could cripple states like West Virginia that rely on federal funding for road and bridge projects, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday.

The Obama administration has warned that by early August the federal Highway Trust Fund will no longer have enough money to cover promised aid to states, which have been told to expect a 28 percent reduction in aid on average.

“Frankly, in Washington, things are stuck,” Foxx said Monday at a meeting at the state Culture Center that included U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall.

U.S. House and Senate bills both would provide about $11 billion to keep projects going through May. Rahall is the leading Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., also is a member of the committee.

In West Virginia, state Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox Jr. said there currently are 203 active transportation projects dependent upon federal aid.

Foxx said there have been more than two dozen such transportation “patches” in the last five years alone. He said the country needs a longer plan in place that invests more money so that projects can get finished.

“If we don’t get a long-term bill done relatively soon, it’s going to be a disaster for a lot of states,” Foxx said. “The uncertainty in Washington creates a level of uncertainty on the state and local levels.”

Rockefeller cited a recent study by the nonprofit transportation group TRIP that showed West Virginia is tied with Rhode Island for the percentage of secondary roads in poor condition at 33 percent. Connecticut was the worst at 35 percent.

The West Virginia Blue Ribbon Highway Commission has outlined more than $1 billion worth of improvements and new road work. But the state has been waiting to act due to the uncertainty on the federal level, Mattox said.

Because of a lack of financial resources along with damage from the severe winter of 2013-14, Mattox said the average road in West Virginia now gets repaved about once every 28 years.

“We’re just not putting enough money into our paving program because we don’t have it to put there,” Mattox said.

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