CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice says he’s ready to speed up improvements on West Virginia’s secondary roads, and state lawmakers say it’s about time.
“It’s taken him long enough to come to the table. I’ve been preaching this the whole session,” said Senator Randy Smith, R-Tucker.
“Here we are after the session, and he’s finally addressing ‘em and spring’s here. It’s a little late now to start a plan for going forward when it should have been done this winter to be ready to go when spring hit.”
Governor Justice made a surprise Sunday evening announcement that he’s dismissing Transportation Secretary Tom Smith. The interviews in this story came prior to that announcement.
Frustration over the condition of West Virginia’s roads has grown for months.
Senator Smith has advocated during the entire, 60-day regular session for roads improvements. He advocated for a bill dubbed “Randy’s Dream” to push highways districts to establish priorities and then bid out private contracts if they couldn’t handle the load themselves.
“If Randy’s Dream does nothing else it draws attention to just how bad the secondary roads are,” Smith said. “More than likely he’s going to try to do more than what I proposed. That’s just his style. He don’t like to be one upped on anything.”
Justice says he will have an announcement Wednesday to push a strategy on roads improvements.
“There is no doubt the Department of Transportation is doing great work on our Roads to Prosperity projects, but our secondary roads aren’t being addressed with the urgency needed,” Justice stated this past week.
“This is the issue that we will address with this plan, and secondary roads will be the No. 1 priority of the department. These roads have been neglected for nearly two decades, and that’s not going to continue on my watch. The people of West Virginia deserve well-maintained roads.”
This isn’t the first time the governor has talked about improving secondary roads. He received a standing ovation during his State of the State address when he mentioned the roads as a priority.
During his State of the State address, the governor praised progress from the road bond that passed last year but said more resources need to go toward secondary roads.
“We’ve done — I don’t know how many, but it’s hundreds of projects already. Here’s the very thing, though, that we need to do: We’ve got to shift a little bit of the focus — and we have had extensive discussions with the bond holders and everything else, that we can do this,” he said.
“We’ve got to pull some of the money out of the bigger projects and move some of the money — or significantly more money. Not more than all the big projects, but a little bit of additional moneys over to fix more of our secondary roads.”
But the entire legislative session passed with no further word.
“I would have anticipated it earlier, yes, something prior to all of this,” said Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion.
Longstreth said she receives hundreds of calls from constituents, asking for help with roads.
“It’s continual,” she said. “Everyone has bad roads in West Virginia. We know that. We have sinkholes. We’re putting guard things around them. We put stoplights up to make it go to one lane, and that’s on a main road, let alone the bad roads that are just kind of caving in.
“I don’t know what the governor plans, but we need to get the focus back on it.”
Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia, was the lead sponsor of a House bill that would have pushed Highways districts to establish priorities and contract out the work.
“We need to be investing in our roads,” Williams said. “I don’t know the details of what’s coming out next week, but I would say that any action has to be good action. I’m looking forward to what he has planned.”
House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, took an active part in efforts by lawmakers from north central counties to draw attention to roads needs. She signed on as a sponsor to the House roads bill.
“The Legislature has to push these bills to make the executive branch recognize what people want, and they want their secondary and tertiary roads fixed,” Summers said.
“It has brought a lot of conversation to the forefront with the governor’s office: ‘Please help us try to find a way to improve the roads, we need your assistance, we need your help getting this done.’ They have been very receptive, looking at means, what can they do to change the way things are done.”
She praised the governor’s plans to make an announcement on roads.
“I think it’s a great sign that there is one,” she said. “We’ve been in dialogue for 60 days. Roads are a huge priority. ‘What can we do to fix it? Please help us.’ He has been listening to us.”
But, Summers said, the problems are clear to anyone who drives West Virginia’s roads.
“I’ve got slips that are blocking roads. We have no maintenance being done. It is very, very frustrating.”