Exponent Editorial, Tuesday, March 2, 1999

Legislature missed golden opportunity
by failing to pass smokeless tobacco tax

    It was, perhaps, the most important bill of the 1999 session. Its impact would have been even more significant than mountaintop removal legislation. But nothing will be done, thanks to a group of spineless lawmakers who caved into the tobacco lobby.
    Gov. Underwood surprised many at the beginning of the session when he proposed a 25 percent tax on smokeless tobacco. It was not a tax issue, he said. It was a health issue. The intent was to make it so expensive as to discourage young people from buying it.
    The bill met with opposition from many lawmakers who, under the thumb of tobacco interests, said they would not raise taxes, even on a product that can kill.
    The measure was passed out of the House Health and Human Resources Committee last week but it was a symbolic vote at best. The full House is not likely to vote on the bill because the Senate has made it clear it does not have the votes to pass it.
    The Legislature had an opportunity here to show that it cares about the health and well-being of the state's young people. Instead, it sat on its hands and let the special interests take over.
    As taxes go, it would have raised only a modest amount of revenue. The governor estimated it would bring in only about $7 million. The issue, he said, was a matter of public health. It had nothing to do with tax policy.
    Even though there are two weeks left in the session, the chances of the bill passing are grim. Still, the governor and a select group of lawmakers are to be commended for making the attempt. In a session that has produced little, the passage of the smokeless tobacco tax would have gone a long way toward alleviating a serious health concern among our youth.
    Big tobacco has won another round. The lawmakers who do their bidding have succeeded. We wonder how they can sleep at night.

This editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which includes William J. Sedivy, John G. Miller, Julie R. Cryser, James Logue, Kevin Courtney and Cecil Jarvis.

Telegram Editorial, March 2, 1999

Hooking of Mon-Fayette into I-68 at Cheat Lake
exit a bad idea

    When a known problem continues to exist, it seems reasonable to try to solve it, not to further complicate things. We have known that the Cheat Lake exit of Interstate 68 is a deadly stretch of pavement for some time. Yet plans call for the four-lane Mon-Fayette Expressway to hook into four-lane I-68 at that very exit.
    If there is any logic to support such a plan, it has certainly escaped us. Already the exit has been described as a "death funnel" by members of the Cheat Lake Commission on Community Development, consisting of a number of concerned citizens who reside not far from the exit.
    They are convinced that more people are going to die once the toll highway drops south from Pennsylvania and ties in with the Cheat Lake interchange. The West Virginia Division of Highways maintains that a new high-speed ramp will be built to carry traffic onto the northbound expressway as it descends Cheat Mountain.
    But the Cheat Lake panel is of the opinion that, even with the existing status of I-68, there is simply too much traffic moving far too rapidly on too few lanes. This situation is made even worse by the steep grade of the mountain, a sharp curve and a "tight" bridge. Three deaths and more than a dozen serious injuries have resulted from accidents on the I-68 segment in question in the past several years.
    Quality highway design is an absolute must in order to avoid further serious injuries and loss of life. Yet this is certainly not the kind of road design to which those traveling in West Virginia have been accustomed. Poor road design in certain sections of I-79 has caused countless problems. Notable among these are the interchange with U.S. 50 on Bridgeport Hill and also the Interstate 79-U.S. 33 exit near Weston. The latter scenario is particularly hazardous for traffic heading south on I-79. Here vehicles exiting the interstate are in danger of being rear-ended by those entering the four-lane at the same location.
    One of the best-designed interchanges in north central West Virginia is in Monongalia County, where I-79 and I-68 meet. Why has the same degree of expertise not been practiced at the other interchanges we have mentioned?
    Granted, there will not be nearly as much of the Mon-Fayette Expressway running through West Virginia as neighboring Pennsylvania. But a decision to have the road interchange with I-68 (construction in the Mountain State is scheduled this year) at arguably the worst place seems insane to us.
    Some have suggested widening the eastbound exit off I-68 from one lane to three. But this would hardly be a viable answer, since motorists will still have to stop for the stop sign at the bottom of the ramp.
    We have no problem with the Mon-Fayette Expressway passing through a portion of our state. In fact, we believe it will be great for Monongalia County retail business, as well as Western Pennsylvania's economy.
    Still, there must be a reassessment among highway engineers that smarter, more practical designing of roads and interchanges be given top priority- whether on I-68 or anyplace an interchange may subsequently be planned.

Robert F. Stealey
Telegram Editorial Board member


Clarksburg Publishing Company, P.O. Box 2000, Clarksburg, WV 26302 USA
Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999