CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the state House of Delegates have voted to eliminate the state Courtesy Patrol, which monitors state highways for motorists in need of help.
The House voted 58-41 with one absent delegate to eliminate the program, which is operated by the Citizen Conservation Corps through a contract with the state Division of Highways.
The bill to eliminate the Courtesy Patrol now will be considered by the state Senate.
A fiscal note that accompanies the bill estimated the savings from eliminating the program will be about $4 million.
The Courtesy Patrol’s duties include providing stranded drivers with assistance like gasoline, water or help with changing a flat tire.
Its employees also drive salt trucks when needed during the winter season, clean their buildings and equipment every day, pick up the trash at the travel plazas, pick up debris on the road, provide facility security, serve as first responders to accidents, and assist the State Police with traffic control and slow flagging when needed.
The bill to eliminate the Courtesy Patrol strikes through a section with the Legislature’s original stated purpose for establishing it:
The Legislature finds that a courtesy patrol program providing assistance to motorists on the state’s highways is one of a most beneficial public safety service to residents of the state using public highways and serves as a showing of the state’s hospitality and good will to tourists visiting the state.
Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, spoke up for the Courtesy Patrol, which has its dispatch center in its district.
“We cannot fill our budget hole by simply cutting the small amount the Courtesy Patrol represents,” Evans said.
“It’s going to cost families their health insurance and it’s going to cost their livelihoods.”
Delegate Ed Evans speaks on behalf of Courtesy Patrol pic.twitter.com/0lK6WtX6Ib
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 14, 2017
Delegate Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, one of the sponsors of the bill, said he and his fellow delegates realize doing away with the Courtesy Patrol will affect the livelihoods of those who work for it. But up against the state’s budget challenges, Hamrick said, legislators have to make hard decisions.
“I think this is the year we need to make the hard decisions,” Hamrick said.
Delegate John Kelly, a Republican from Wood County, said personal experience made him support continued funding for the Courtesy Patrol.
“I had a blowout, and I had to pull off alongside the road. I had people on the other direction, looking, rubbernecking, seeing if they could see a situation,” Kelly said. “Because of that experience, I learned the value of our safety patrol on the interstates.”
Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, who sponsored the bill and provided an explanation on the floor, said the $4 million would be better spent elsewhere, particularly for road maintenance.
“The real question we have is, what is the role of government?” Gearheart said. “Is our role as government to provide roadside assistance to travelers? In today’s world, it’s an unnecessary service for us to provide.
“The reality is that most who want this service also want their roads in front of their homes and businesses repaired.”