CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Hoo Hoo Hollow is not alone.
That’s the community described by Gov. Jim Justice to illustrate West Virginia’s deteriorating roads.
“Our situation is, here Edith is sitting up in Hoo Hoo Hollow today, doesn’t really care a whole heck of a lot about us spending $300 million on repairing or building a new bridge on the interstate,” Justice said in a press conference earlier this month. “She just cares about how she can get to the convenience store.”
Hoo Hoo Hollow is a real place in Raleigh County. Edith might not actually be a resident.
But there are plenty of people just like Edith all over West Virginia.
Hundreds have sent complaints about their roads to the Governor’s Office over the past year, either by email or phone call. They describe frustrations with paving, potholes, slips, culverts, ditching and water on the road.
They worry about blowing out tires, about whether slips mean they’ll be able to leave their neighborhoods and, sometimes, about the possibility of unsafe conditions leading to death.
Some describe the roads as “terrible.”
Some describe the roads as “deplorable.”
“I have had my current vehicle four years this month. I’ve put 3 sets of tires on it, and two sets of shocks and they are almost worn out again!” Cynthia Jones of Alderson wrote in a recent email to the Governor’s Office.
Roads are top of mind for West Virginia residents
Roads are among the top concerns of West Virginians who contact the Constituent Services at the Governor’s Office.
About 1,600 concerns about roads came to through Constituent Services in the past 12 months, said Jason Williams, director of that department. Those have picked up in the past month since Governor Justice vowed “I told the people of this state we were going to fix the damn roads.”
“When the governor started talking about issues regarding secondary roads, yes we definitely had an uptick,” Williams said.
MetroNews asked to see those comments by West Virginians — and pored through stacks and stacks of concerns about highways.
Some of the recent comments were attuned to the governor’s statements about roads.
“I want to thank you for standing up for the changes that need to be made in how the WV Department of Highways has addressed the conditions of our secondary roads. I live on one of those roads that has become a hazard for our school buses to cross,” Patti HIgginbotham of Hurricane wrote on March 18.
“I hope the change of direction you want to see for our secondary roads becomes a reality. I believe it is sad to let our secondary roads go and the dangers it has placed on my neighbors and many others who also live on roads with the same issues we have.”
Others expressed worry that conditions would remain the same.
“I am very aware of the ongoing struggles in my road district, but this route has been poorly patched for the past 7 years. I have noticed in the WVDOH’s plans that they are going to provide routine patching again this year,” wrote Brandon Johnson, expressing concern with U.S. 19 in Monongalia County on March 12.
“Yes, you have to have a workforce to do the job, and I understand that. If we don’t have enough workers to fix our roads and make this state safe, why do we not hire contractors to help?”
Constituents want attention from the governor
Some who wrote or called wanted direct intervention from Governor Justice.
“We in Morgantown need things done to our roads,” wrote Gary Chivers, a Morgantown resident. “I am inviting you or a member of your staff to Morgantown so you can see first hand how bad our roads are. Drains are not cleaned, there are no drains, holes that are six to 10 inches deep and the local DOH staff have known about this for years.”
Earlene Bailey of Poca addressed a Feb. 6 letter directly to the state’s top official. She mentioned her earlier support for the governor’s road bond program, Roads to Prosperity.
Dear Governor Justice:
I am writing you in regard to the road conditions of Poca River Road North, Poca, West Virginia in Putnam County. Our country roads are in much needed repair. The pot holes are much deeper in several locations where water runs over the road.
I voted for the Road Bond (Highway for Prosperity) for interstate construction in the hope that would free up monies for our secondary roads.
Our residents have called the Putnam County officials, but nothing has been done. The condition of our roadway is causing repairs to our vehicles, especially those that travel in and out every day. We really need a complete paving job but patching would be helpful for the time being.
The response Bailey received was that a Department of Highways crew spent about four months in 2018 working on Poca River Road. DOH hopes to fix slips along the road. Unfortunately: “At this time we do not have an estimated date of when funding will be secured or repairs to these slips will take place.”
Jeane Blackmore of Wheeling wanted to make sure Justice himself would respond to her concerns.
“We need roadways taken care of in the Northern Panhandle. I travel all over WV and it’s like the Northern Panhandle is totally forgotten about. Nothing is ever taken seriously way up here, from roads, waterways, etc. Please start taking care of our falling away bridges in Wheeling. Oh, yes, that is in WV,” Blackmore wrote on Feb. 24.
“Thank you and look forward to a response from Gov. Jim Justice, not a secretary. I voted for Jim Justice, not his coworkers. Thank you Mr. Justice.”
Residents want roads improvement
There were similar themes in earlier calls and letters from West Virginia residents, going back to last spring.
Shirley Ash of Folsom, Wetzel County, wrote last summer to complain about the roads. She, too, believed Roads to Prosperity would lead to improvement.
She also invited the governor to see the potholes with his own eyes.
“There hasn’t been a thing done to these roads this year, and it is July already. You recently said WV had a big extra in money. Why is this not put back into our roads? The cost of our license plates went to $50. It was supposed to go to our roads,” Ash wrote.
“This is the first year I can remember that the roads have gone this long without being patched!!! Come out and go for a drive on them and see yourself.”
She received a response that W.Va. 20 and county route 9 in her area were listed for patching on the core maintenance plan. “We do feel you have a valid concern and apologize for the delay in making the corrections on the roadway.”
Another invitation for the governor to see the roads up close came from Dwayne Cales of Meadow Bridge. He made reference to Justice’s home in nearby Lewisburg.
“The next time you drive home, I request that you get off at the Green Sulphur Springs exit and travel Route 20 to Rainelle. This road needs reworked bad, as no one is doing any maintenance on it,” Cales wrote last April. “Used to be before an election, every four years, they would work on the roads but no longer.”
Cales received a reply that pothole patching was ongoing in the roads that troubled him.
One frustrated citizen who got in touch with Constituent Services several times was Jim Dorrance, a resident of Bruceton Mills, Preston County. When Dorrance called last May, a staff member wrote a summary of his concerns.
“Mr. Dorrance said the conditions are deplorable and DOH knows about this but has done nothing to address it,” the staff member wrote. “He said that he has a new car and recently suffered damage because of a pothole incident. He said that a neighbor busted two tires as a result of the holes throughout the road. He said this does not make any sense.”
A response that Dorrance received might not have made him feel much better.
“I tried to explain to him that we are doing the best we can with the resources at hand,” wrote a Department of Highways employee. “Mr. Dorrance wants us to travel to the worst end and patch first. I explained to him that we are not going to travel through holes to get to holes.
“He is wanting me to give him a time frame when we would patch the bad area. I will not give him a time frame due to weather, equipment, manpower and availability of asphalt. I agreed with him on the condition of the road.”
Toward the end of the month, Dorrance was so frustrated he sent another note in all capital letters.
TAKE A LOOK FOR YOURSELF
HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND TO ALL WV MOTORISTS THAT DRIVE THIS ROAD THIS WEEKEND!!
HAVE YOUR SPARE TIRES READY AND FIRST AID KIT
Last May 23 an email from Dorrance to Constituent Services concluded, “I personally would be embarrassed to be the governor of West Virginia.”
But by the next day, May 24, he was apparently seeing progress and feeling better.
A staffer made a note.
“I called him again and he said that DOH is out there now and patching the holes. He said they are doing a great job and he even took a bottled water to them He appreciates the help.”
The staffer made one final conclusion about the conversation with Dorrance.
“He wants to know when it will be paved now…”