MORGANTOWN — The six counties that make up the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) District 4 have more miles of state roads and more vehicle traffic than any district in West Virginia.
The same six counties — Monongalia, Preston, Marion, Doddridge, Taylor and Harrison — are home to industrial, educational and recreational resources that are critical to the state’s economic future.
Why then, when it comes to road conditions in the district, does the state seem content to spray a four-alarm fire with a garden hose?
And why is the formula dictating how annual maintenance funds are distributed among the DOH districts such a closely held secret?
These were among the topics of conversation Wednesday May 16 as about two dozen county commissioners, state legislators and political hopefuls met in the Monongalia County Commission chamber to discuss the district’s roads, which Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said have “reached a crisis stage.”
This is the second such meeting in the wake of the Preston County Commission’s April 19 decision to declare a county-wide state of emergency over the “dangerous” road conditions faced by residents there.
Stoking the concerns and the call for a unified front is the belief that the roads in District 4 are demonstrably worse than anywhere else in the state.
Preston County Commission President Craig Jennings said that if road maintenance funds were needs-based and not dictated by a state formula, all the DOH’s money would be coming to District 4 for the foreseeable future.
“We’re not asking for gold-paved streets here. We’d just like to be treated like everyone else,” Jennings said, adding, “I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be able to drive the speed limit in District 4.”
Comments from West Virginia Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, support the notion that issues in this district are not shared elsewhere.
Smith explained that his district — Senatorial District 14 — is made up of five counties, including Preston and Taylor, and parts of three more, including Monongalia. He said that area includes parts of four different DOH districts.
Smith said he’s been reduced to lobbying the DOH to put Preston County in another district, explaining, “I just don’t know what we’re going to do about District 4.”
Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, and Smith “have eight counties. Some of them, we don’t get no complaints — Hardy, Grant, Mineral, we never hear from those counties; Barbour a little bit and Taylor every once in a while — we might get five complaints a year,” Smith said. In District 4, “We get probably, and this is no exaggeration, especially this year, probably between 10 and 30 a day. That’s no exaggeration. You go to the store to get a jug of milk, they’re lined up to talk to you.”
The meeting lasted about 90 minutes and resulted in a few tangible goals:
- Speak with a unified voice. The formation of a, tentatively titled, North Central Caucus on Roads was a primary point. State legislators who represent District 4 need to arrive in Charleston with a unified goal, regardless of political affiliation and with the full support of local elected officials.
- Get a full explanation as to how the DOH divvies up maintenance funds. To that end, it was explained that District 4 Engineer Donny Williams would attend the next meeting, slated for 6 p.m. June 13, in Marion County, with that information. Along those same lines, Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said he intends to continue pushing for changes in the state formula that would tie funding directly to how many miles of roads are in a district and how busy those roads are.
- Explore the creation or location of a revenue source that could help kickstart the process. Jennings said that even if Preston County got as much funding and manpower as every other county, it’s so far behind the curve that crews would essentially be chasing their tail without a very large initial investment.