MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The threat, according to Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom, is the state moving backwards.
An improved economic forecast can easily go the other direction, Bloom said Tuesday, without the commitment to infrastructure in what Bloom calls “the state’s economic driver.”
“This is a roads issue,” Bloom said. “The survival of the state of West Virginia is basically now.”
And, Bloom added, he has no intention of backing down. The Monongalia County Commission President believes the next action taken by roads advocates should send a message to the Governor and the Legislature.
“What I’m planning to do is have a discussion with the other commissioners to call for a state of emergency in Monongalia County, consider filing a possible lawsuit against the state for not fulfilling their state Constitutional duties by purposely and knowingly allowing unsafe roads and jeopardizing the health and safety of the citizens of Mon County,” Bloom said.
Bloom made it clear that he was only speaking for himself, but said he would bring the proposal to his colleagues.
Bloom and Preston County Commissioner Samantha Stone joined Dave Wilson and Sarah Giosi on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town” Tuesday, following a regular legislative session filled with pleas, near misses, and some victories as the two continue to advocate for a larger piece of the pie dedicated towards North Central West Virginia’s secondary roads problem.
“Tom knows, I know, everybody in our six counties in (DOH) District 4 know — we know facts,” Stone said. “And facts are, it is terrible up here.”
Much like a winding road full of twists and turns, reps from the district expressed in one voice early in the session their desperation at seeing a plan come out to fix roads in the region not eligible for federal funding — which is many of them. At the time, Bloom said he felt that the message had been heard and even well-received.
Then focus turned to the omnibus education bill, and for a time it seemed like the roads would head to the back-burner.
Following a two-day teacher strike in response to that education bill, some of the pieces of legislation that had been held up began moving forward — including successfully passed bills that modernize the DOH funding formula and the “Randy’s Dream” bill that creates a special road maintenance fund to address secondary roads.
“Randy’s Dream,” however, looked a lot different than the initial version of the legislation introduced by Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, who represents parts of Preston and Monongalia counties.
“They gutted it,” Bloom said.
Bloom criticized the final version of the bill and its lack of funding for failing to address the regions with greatest needs.
“Why give a million dollars to a county that doesn’t really need the road fixed?” Bloom said. “This is where it is time to be a leader and not a politician. That’s why you are elected — to make these difficult decisions and put the money where it’s needed. Monongalia County and Preston County and the other counties (of DOH District 4) are being left out, and I want to know why.”
Bloom is advocating for a three-year plan to address road issues in the entire region, rather than just a single county. Since-fired DOT Secretary Tom Smith spent some of the final days of the legislative session touring Preston County, where a state of emergency has been in effect for nearly one year due to the state of the county’s roadways.
Ahead of Governor Jim Justice’s press conference Wednesday, significant ditch cleaning is going on throughout DOH District 4. The Dominion Post first reported that process began Monday following a Preston County Commission meeting.
“It cannot be just coming in and ditching the roads,” Stone said.
In the days following Tom Smith’s ouster, both Stone and Bloom expressed their surprise.
“When he was up here, I never would have guessed that was coming,” said Stone.
Bloom believed Smith, who he said Monongalia County Commissioners liked, was a scapegoat.
“All three of us were in shock,” he said. “All three of us really started working with Tom Smith.”
Stone, though, has no intention of letting a change at the top halt the progress she believes was made during Smith’s tour of Preston County at the end of February.
“As soon as we hear the Governor’s big news tomorrow,” Stone said, “and as soon as I figure out who is replacing Mr. Tom Smith, don’t you think that he is not coming up to District 4 to see the roads.”