POINT PLEASANT — With the legislative session ready to begin, the Mason County Commission invited legislators to its first meeting of the new year to discuss the needs of local residents - high on the list, the completion of U.S. 35.
In attendance at Thursday’s meeting were Delegates Brady Paxton, Scott Cadle of the 13th district, Delegate Jim Butler of the 14th district, State Senators Mitch Carmichael and Mike Hall of the fourth district. Commissioners in attendance were Miles Epling, Rick Handley and Tracy Doolittle.
One of the big topics of conversation was the completion of U.S. 35 through Mason and Putnam counties, less tolls. Butler said both he and Cadle had visited with Paul Mattox, Jr., commissioner of highways, and from this visit both delegates saw a four-year plan to complete the 14.6 miles of road. Butler said the project could conceivably start this spring (though nothing has been finalized) and the state would pay $5 million a month for the next four years for the road’s completion. At the end of those four years, the road would be paid for, Butler said of the plan he saw.
“It’s a matter of getting the governor to go along with it,” Butler said.
Of course, part of the reason why the funding may now be there is Senate Bill 190 (the public-private partnership bill) passed into law on July 1, 2013. SB 190 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 law.
Sen. Hall was one of the senators who sponsored SB 190.
Hall told commissioners in the last two weeks he had met with a direct member of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s staff who told him “you’re going to be very happy in the near future.” Hall took it to mean good news on the completion of U.S. 35.
Handley said he was optimistic the road would get completed and added he felt the use of the provisions in SB 190 to fund the road would be a great example and success story for the new legislation.
“We want the road,” Doolittle simply and directly told the legislators gathered.
Handley agreed, saying the commission wanted the road specifically without the use of tolls.
Also at yesterday’s meeting, which was an organizational meeting for the commission, Handley was voted as commission president with Epling voted as president pro-tem for this year. Handley was nominated by Epling, Epling nominated by Doolittle. All votes were unanimous.
Upcoming commission meetings have been set for 4 p.m., Jan. 16. and 30, Feb. 13 and 27, March 16 and 30. Board of Equalization meeting times and dates were set for 9 a.m., Feb. 1, 3 p.m. Feb. 5, 3 p.m. Feb. 11, 9 a.m. Feb. 7, 3:30 p.m. Feb. 13 and 3:30 p.m. Feb. 27.
(More on other issues discussed at yesterday’s meeting in an upcoming edition of the Point Pleasant Register.)