POINT PLEASANT — Mason County Commission President Rick Handley reported he spoke to the director of the West Virginia Division of Highways on Thursday about what the state is doing concerning possibly funding the completion of U.S. 35.
Handley talked about the conversation at Thursday’s regular Mason County Commission meeting. He said Director Paul Mattox didn’t say the state was funding the completion of U.S. 35 but it had hired a national law firm with experience in working on public-private partnerships that fund large highway projects. Late last month, Handley drafted a letter to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin urging him to utilize the provisions in Senate Bill 190 to help complete the 14 miles of U.S. 35 which have yet to be expanded into four lanes.
As reported in earlier editions, state officials passed S.B. 190 (known as the public-private partnership bill) earlier this year. It basically allows the state highway commissioner to approve public road projects without legislative approval - these projects would then be subject to financing and construction via a private company if that company meets all the requirements contained in the bill. So, in effect, U.S. 35 could be paid for in installments or over time by the state with the provisions of this bill, and possibly bonds, and more importantly to many in Mason County, without tolling.
Handley said he stressed to Mattox the commission felt U.S. 35 should be at the top of the funding list. Mattox said U.S. 35 along with other highway projects were being considered for funding via S.B. 190, Handley said.
Back in August, Amy Goodwin, director of communications for Tomblin’s office, confirmed the state was proceeding with the purchase of the remaining right-of-ways along the 14-mile stretch of U.S. 35 which is two lanes through Mason and Putnam counties. In addition, Goodwin said the state is also looking at alternatives to funding this completion “absent tolls.”
As reported back in August, Goodwin’s statement about the state looking at alternatives to funding the completion absent tolls also goes hand-in-hand with what Handley was told by the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Jason Pizatella earlier this year. Handley said Pizatella told him state officials were “exploring innovative ways of finishing U.S. 35 without tolls.”