WINFIELD, W.Va. (AP) - U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is pushing to get a long-debated widening project finished on U.S. Route 35 in Mason and Putnam counties as the search continues for ways to pay for it.
The West Virginia Republican took a tour Friday of a 14.6-mile section of the highway that’s been stuck on two lanes for decades.
The four-lane highway starts at Interstate 64 in Putnam County and is a major truck and bus route connecting to southern Ohio and other points in the Midwest. Other sections of the highway already have been rerouted and widened.
Capito rode aboard a Conway Freight truck along the two-lane road where semis heading in opposite directions at 55 mph have little clearance between them when they pass.
“It’s just got a lot of traffic on it,” Capito said.
Conway driver trainer Joe Stanley used to drive U.S. 35 every day for 10 years from his company’s Belle office to Richmond, Ind., amassing 2,550 miles per week. He showed Capito curvy sections of the road and areas where there’s no shoulder to veer onto in case the truck breaks down.
“It’s a real safety issue,” Stanley said. “We’ve got all this great technology on these trucks, and then we take them and stick them on a road that should have been redone 30 years ago.”
The state Division of Highways began seeking alternative funding for the $187 million project last year following backlash against plans for tolls on the road.
President Obama’s proposed budget contains a four-year, $302 billion plan to boost spending on highways, rail projects and mass transit.
Both the Obama administration and House Republicans propose using one-time revenue from a tax on the overseas profits of U.S. companies to finance a renewal of surface transportation programs after they expire at the end of September. That funding method depends on a broader overhaul of the corporate tax code.
“We’ve got to pass a highway bill, and we know in an election year it gets more difficult as time goes on,” Capito said. “So now’s the time to be talking about it.”
Capito and West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall are members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In May, Capito is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Jay Rockefeller.
If federal funding for the U.S. 35 widening doesn’t happen, the state DOH has been looking at a possible public-private partnership. A bill approved by the Legislature last year allows private entities or contractors to front all of the money necessary to finish a project. The DOH would pay them back over a set period of time.
“It’s certainly an important project to us and one that we want to see to fruition,” DOH spokesman Brent Walker said.
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