MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Let this be the start of something big, Samantha Stone says.
The Preston County commissioner knows one thing about the Governor’s new roads initiative: he’s got his eye on Preston County.
“I believe they had to start somewhere to make an impact,” she said. “I’m thankful for our local officials and other people that have been continuously trying to get the attention of the Governor.”
If the squeaky wheel really does get the grease, then perhaps no better example of that currently exists than Stone’s home county — where months, if not years, of loudly reminding state leaders of the decaying condition of their secondary roadways resulted in last week’s blitz of DOH workers pouring into Camp Dawson.
“We’ve been told time and time again there just isn’t enough money because of the snow and the salt that takes place in our winter months up here,” she said. “Our winters are well worse than a lot of the other counties.”
She added: “You can literally cross county lines, and the weather is like night and day.”
There are now around 100 DOH workers — the majority of whom are not from DOH District 4 and about half of whom are living at Camp Dawson — expected to tackle Preston County’s roads through several weeks worth of ditching, shoulder stabilization, pipe clearance, and pipe replacement.
“We were originally told they could be here two to three months,” Stone said. “1200 miles of roads is a lot, and they have said that they are looking at around 900 miles of ditching. That would be our bus routes that we run here in Preston County.”
Increased use of funding for winter road treatment, a shortfall of DOH employees, and heavy traveling on the roadways have left Preston County’s secondary roads in disrepair — and deferred maintenance means those roads are only getting worse, Stone said.
“At the end of the day, this is not just a Preston County issue,” she said. “We just happen to be way bigger than the other counties in the state when it comes to our road miles.”
Gov. Justice mentioned Stone by name during his press conference on the first day of the two-day teacher strike last month — also citing a car accident that injured three Preston County teens and resulted in the death of a 15-year-old. Stone has said that accident may not have been caused by the roads, but suggested less experienced drivers may struggle on Preston County’s roadways.
At the time, Justice had been lamenting other issues — like secondary roads — that had fallen by the wayside as the debate over the Senate’s omnibus education bill erupted.
Outside of Preston County, there are advocates for better roads who believe there are other actions the Governor can take immediately that will also help improve the state’s roads. Del. John Williams, D-Monongalia, urged the Governor to sign H.B. 3044 — updating the DOH funding formula for their districts.
Williams — certainly not alone in this opinion in Monongalia County — believes the modern funding formula, which is not codified, has short-changed Monongalia County and the rest of DOH District 4.
“This bill is going to require money be dispersed according to this funding formula, which takes into account population growth, vehicle traffic, total number of lane miles, which is a big problem that we have in Mon County,” Williams told WAJR’s “Talk of the Town” with Dave Wilson and Sarah Giosi.
Admittedly, Stone said she’d like to hear more specifics following Gov. Justice’s mid-week press conference announcing the diversion of dollars to secondary road repairs.
For now, she’s glad that someone is listening.
“Really, (let’s) look at this as Preston County being ground zero,” Stone said. “They’re going to start here, and everyone else is going to get their roads fixed.”