POINT PLEASANT — Funding the completion of U.S. 35 was included in the discussion at the most recent meeting of the Mason County Commission.
County Administrator John Gerlach presented Commissioners Miles Epling and Tracy Doolittle with letters from Congressman Nick J. Rahall. In one letter, Rahall tells commissioners he contacted U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to convey his support for a 2014 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant submitted by the West Virginia Department of Transportation to further develop U.S. 35.
The other letter, submitted by Rahall, was his actual correspondence with Foxx dated in June. Rahall wrote to Foxx saying, in addition to “alleviating a section of roadway that is detrimental to the safety and livelihood of families and communities, this grant will help construct a sturdy ladder of opportunity for a region that holds tremendous potential for job and economic development.” Rahall also made mention of the heavy traffic counts on the road, tragic accidents and proposed economic growth tied to the road’s completion. He also mentioned employees of Toyota Motor Manufacturing using the road to get to and from work.
It could be an uphill battle with the TIGER grant or, at the least, a competitive one. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, TIGER applications for fiscal year 2014 funding totaled $9.5 billion — 15 times more than available funding. Requests for the latest round of funding totaled $9.5 billion — 15 times the $600 million set aside for the program. There were 797 eligible applications received compared to 585 in 2013, from 49 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
Local elected officials and state legislators have all expressed frustration about the road not being completed, particularly after last year’s passage of Senate Bill 190. 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. The new law has a provision that allows for tolling, though it doesn’t have to be utilized as part of the financing package.
Late last year, Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley said W.Va. Commission of Highways Secretary Paul A. Mattox Jr. indicated to him the right-of-ways for the project have been obtained, the plans were ready and the completion of U.S. 35 was at the top of the wish list for the state Division of Highways. Then, Handley said Mattox indicated the project was in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office waiting for approval. The commissioners have since urged the public to write to the governor to support completing U.S. 35, minus tolls.
In other business:
The county was approved for a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victim Assistance grant award in the amount of $29,667. The funds will provide for the salary of a full-time victim advocate in the Mason County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to provide direct services to crime victims in Mason County. Notice of this state grant was given in writing from Gov. Tomblin.
Commissioners approved the reappointment of Phyllis Arthur to a term on the Mason County Library Board, effective July 2014.
Gerlach presented commissioners with a report on the ATM machine totals. The machine, located on the second floor of the courthouse, is operated by Ohio Valley Bank. The county receives a fee from certain transactions and after two quarters, the county has taken in $238.50. The county provides the electricity and phone line for the ATM.
Present during the meeting, Commissioners Epling, Doolittle, County Clerk Diana Cromley and Gerlach.