MASON COUNTY, W.Va. — A report out of Putnam County, W.Va. Tuesday saying the completion of U.S. 35 was being funded and was moving forward was later referred to as “simply premature,” in a statement released by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
On Tuesday, a Charleston media outlet reported a Putnam County Commissioner indicated completing the 14.6-mile stretch of U.S. 35 into four lanes through Mason and Putnam counties would be done without tolls, would begin in April and cost $214 million.
However, when contacted by The Point Pleasant Register on Tuesday, Tomblin’s office did not back up that statement, releasing the following from the governor:
“From my first day as Governor, the completion of the final segment of a four-lane U.S. 35 has been a top priority. During the 2013 regular session, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 190 that streamlined the approval requirements for the use of public-private partnerships by the Division of Highways (WVDOH). WVDOH is still exploring ways to fully implement this legislation and its applicability to projects like U.S. 35 remains to be seen. WVDOH has retained outside counsel to help us with this endeavor, and statements to the contrary are simply premature.”
On Tuesday, Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley, who was also appointed to the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways by Tomblin, said he had heard nothing new about the completion of U.S. 35. Handley said upon hearing about the story out of Putnam County he’d made several calls to contacts at the state level but had no confirmation as to what was reported earlier in the day. The Point Pleasant Register unsuccessfully attempted to contact the Putnam County Commission Office to verify and clarify what was said at the commission meeting referenced in the article. No responses were issued as of press time.
Handley said he met with the governor last Monday and stressed to him the county commission and citizens wanted to see the road completed.
“He (Tomblin) said he understood and was working on it,” Handley said.
Handley was still waiting on call backs from Charleston Tuesday but again, with Gov. Tomblin’s statement about the matter, it appears, as Handley put it, “nothing is set in stone.”
At least not yet.
The statements out of Putnam County indicated financing for the project, minus tolls, would be made possible through provisions provided in Senate Bill 190 (public-private partnership).
SB 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. The bill passed in April and went into effect on July 1.