SMOKE AND MIRRORS: HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT PRIVATIZING?

(09/13/2007)

By Bob Weaver

West Virginia's highway department is moving toward privatization.

Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox says he will be seeking legislative approval in 2008 with regard to the authorization of public-private partnerships to fund future highway maintenance and construction projects in the Mountain State.

Earlier this year, highway officials minimized talk about such a move, after hundreds of pieces of equipment in the 55 counties were placed on the auction block.

Taxpayers are generally told that private enterprise can do the job more efficiently and save money.

Just look at the nation's private health system for some insight, with nearly 50 million Americans without insurance, millions more under-insured, and unfordable costs skyrocketing from year to year.

The highway department adamantly denied the shift earlier this year after they began to sell off county equipment, focusing on "core maintenance."

Mattox says the department is unable to finance the overwhelming needs of the state's highway system, indicating privatization is the solution.

Mattox said under current funding streams, it will take 30 years to complete Corridor H, 160 years to build the King Coal Highway and 126 years to build the Tolsia Highway.

The state's paved highways are in the worst shape in many years, and it is likely the department will ask for the approval of a new road bond.

Avoiding simple solutions like the state operating their own asphalt plants, the answer is to spend more money with private contractors who obviously have a considerable profit margin.

Mattox said more toll roads are an option that is on the table.

Central West Virginia's long-planned Little Kanawha Parkway is barely on any state list, after it was proposed in the 1970s to open-up poor, rural counties to greater opportunity.

The LK Parkway has yet to receive minimal funding to essentially hire a lobbyist to promote the cause.


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