As of this writing (about a week before publication) the West Virginia State Rail Authority (SRA), at the direction of Governor Jim Justice, was actively involved in discussions with the Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA) for a multi-year agreement to continue MARC commuter rail service at its current level.

By the time you read this, an announcement may have already been made.

Governor Justice informed members of the Legislature from Jefferson and Berkeley Counties of his decision to give MARC his full support during the most recent Legislative Interim Meetings, which were held in Charleston November 17-19. He told us he had made his commitment to keep MARC service at three trains from Martinsburg each way, each day Monday through Friday, because of the support shown for the service by local governments in the two counties.

He had asked the local governments (county governments in each of the two counties and six of the seven municipalities) for a total of $300,000 for one year to gauge local commitment. His representative had told representatives of the local governments of his request in a meeting also attended by four local legislators. The legislators were Delegate Sammi Brown (D-Jefferson), Delegate Eric Householder (R-Berkeley), Delegate Jason Barrett (D-Berkeley), and me.

The governor had initially wanted local governments to pony up $500,000. We said that was out of the question. We then agreed that we would try to get $300,000 from all the local governments together, except for the Town of Hedgesville. Unlike the other local municipalities, that town is not permitted to have a sales tax, so its budget is more limited than the others.

What We Need and Deserve

While I supported the one-year local match in the spirit of compromise, I argue that local governments should not be required to provide that local match beyond the first year, for several reasons.

Around the country, commuter rail service, wherever it exists, is funded almost exclusively by the state. And local governments in West Virginia, due to the tax structure mandated by our state constitution, are much more restricted in their financial resources than local governments in most other states.

Furthermore, the byzantine public-school aid formula our state uses mandates that 90 percent of any reduction in property taxes for schools in a county be made up by the Legislature from the state’s general fund. I’m convinced that reduction of MARC service from three trains per day to one train per day would cause property values in Jefferson and Berkeley Counties to be lower in future years than they would be if the service had been continued. Values won’t “drop,” but they won’t rise as much as they would’ve. This would mean more state revenue for schools in our two counties, thereby placing a financial burden on the rest of our state.

Finally, of the two billion dollars in the “Roads for Prosperity” bond the governor asked voters to approve a couple of years ago (which they did), not one penny was targeted for Jefferson County. Jefferson County is now the ninth-most populous county in West Virginia (out of 55), and has the highest number of average daily vehicle miles of any county lacking an interstate highway.

If the five miles of U.S. 340 south of Charles Town that are still two-lane had been expanded to four-lane by now, that road would serve as a much better “detour” from WV/VA Route 9 through Hillsboro when that town begins restricting traffic in a couple of months.

We don’t have the roads we need and deserve. We should at least have the train.

 

— Mr. Doyle represents Jefferson County in the WV House of Delegates—District 67.

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