POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Commission is keeping the completion of U.S. 35 in the mind of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Late last month, Commission President Rick Handley drafted a letter to Tomblin urging him to utilize the provisions in S.B. 190 to help complete the 14 miles of U.S. 35 which have yet to be expanded into four lanes.
The letter, written on behalf of the Mason County Commission by Handley states: “I am writing this letter to urge you on behalf of the citizens of Mason County to complete Route 35 by utilizing the provisions in Senate Bill 190. The public-private partnership outlined in the bill provides the best method of completing the upgrading of the entire road to four-lane status. I applaud your administration’s innovative thinking. Please contact me if the Mason County Commission can provide you with any assistance to this very important end.”
S.B. 190 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. Sen. Mike Hall was one of the two senators who introduced the bill which passed in April and went into effect on July 1.
Hall also spoke about the bill and the recent chatter about completing U.S. 35, minus tolls, in August at a Mason County Area Chamber of Commerce event. Then, Hall confirmed financing U.S. 35 without the use of tolls was currently being explored at the state level. Hall told those at the event he had been in meetings with Tomblin where this financing was being discussed.
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. Handley said Pizatella told him state officials were “exploring innovative ways of finishing U.S. 35 without tolls.”
The Point Pleasant Register contacted Tomblin’s office on Monday to see if there were any new developments in resurrecting the completion of U.S. 35, minus tolls, with a spokesperson with the communications office saying there was nothing new to report at this time.