West Virginia Transportation Secretary and Highways Commissioner Tom Smith is getting a first hand look—or should that be feel—of road conditions in Preston County. Governor Justice dispatched Smith to lead a team from DOH after very public complaints about the roads in Preston County.
“I want the people of North Central West Virginia to know that their complaints have not gone unnoticed and that we will get to the bottom of this problem and correct it,” Justice said in a news release.
Preston County has been under a self-proclaimed state of emergency for months because of the crumbling roads. County Commissioner Samantha Stone, a part-time bus driver, has been giving first hand reports on the road conditions.
“I was out on a road in Bruceton the other day and I went down off of the bus—and this is recorded—I stuck my leg down to my hips in a hole that was in the road we’re driving on,” Stone told WAJR Radio. “It would be literally easier to tell you what roads in Preston County don’t need maintenance rather than which ones do.”
Preston County is especially bad, but it is not alone. The state’s roads are in terrible shape, forcing motorists to dodge potholes while crawling through pools of water that accumulate on the roads because of poor or nonexistent drainage.
Several bills have been introduced this legislative session to address the roads issue, but remember that Governor Justice promised during his State of the State message that he was going to divert some of the road bond money to secondary roads.
Top officials of the Justice administration have been working on a plan, but it’s proving to be a more complicated issue. Yes, in October 2017 voters overwhelmingly approved a bond issue allowing the state to borrow $1.6 billion. However that money, which is being parsed out over the next several years, is being used for major construction projects.
And there is a legitimate question of whether it is wise to spend money from a loan the state will be paying back over the next 25 years on short-term repairs.
The state has fallen way behind over the years on routine maintenance. Clearing drainage ditches, patching potholes, scraping and skim paving roads on a regular basis do not carry the same “wow factor” of opening a new stretch of road, but that work is vital for maintaining the infrastructure.
Highways has manpower issues. It’s difficult for DOH garages to compete with private sector employers for drivers and equipment operators. Also, Highways sold off a lot of its equipment a number of years ago with the idea that more work could be farmed out to the private sector. However, it has been difficult to find contractors interested in the smaller maintenance projects.
These are real problems that help explain why our roads are in such bad shape. However, frustrated motorists don’t care about the history; they just know the roads are a minefield of potholes and missing pavement and they want something done about it. It’s time to finally #FTDR.