MARSHALL COUNTY, W.Va. — “It’s a safety issue.”
That’s how Betsy Frohnapfel, county administrator in Marshall County, is describing this week’s decision from members of the Marshall County Commission to declare a State of Emergency because of county road conditions.
“We want people in Charleston to understand the severity of our issue,” Frohnapfel said.
“We’re talking about the safety of our traveling public. We’re talking about being able to get public safety — fire, EMS and law enforcement — to certain areas of a county and now we’re talking about school bus safety and kid safety.”
The Tuesday declaration came a day after part of Sally’s Backbone Ridge collapsed near Fish Creek and cut off a school bus route.
The only available detour “wasn’t a good option either,” Frohnapfel indicated.
“That was the precipitator for this,” she told MetroNews. “While a lot of other areas are talking about potholes, we’re talking about roads falling over hillsides.”
Along with the State of Emergency declaration, commissioners have found primary and secondary roads in largely rural Marshall County to be “dangerous.”
However, they’ve been quick to add locals workers in District Six for the Division of Highways were not to blame.
“We don’t see this issue as a reflection of them,” Frohnapfel said of the local DOH workers.
“We see this issue as a reflection of not enough manpower, not enough funding, funds for maintenance being diverted to other areas — things like that.”
Along with Marshall County, the DOH’s District Six includes Brooke County, Hancock County, Ohio County, Tyler County and Wetzel County.
For about a year, a similar State of Emergency declaration has been in effect in Preston County.
Road needs in Marshall County and Preston County were among those submitted from across West Virginia to Governor Jim Justice, at his request, last month.
To address the problems, he has described drawing $240 million for additional secondary road work in the following ways:
– diverting some out of the $915 million in bond money West Virginia has already drawn down for “Roads to Prosperity” projects,
– using some “pay-as-you-go” revenues intended to pay down future road bond debt,
– and applying a portion of state general revenue surplus.
Governor Justice has also promised more investments in DOH personnel and equipment.
In Marshall County, this winter brought a lot of freeze-thaw cycles and, with the start of spring, Frohnapfel said evidence of “how bad things are” was beginning to show more and more.
“It seems like over the past three months, things have been getting a lot worse more quickly than they have in the past,” she said.
Frohnapfel said she hoped the emergency declaration would be a first step in bringing more attention to Marshall County’s road problems.
By Tuesday morning, Marshall County officials had heard from oil and natural gas companies interested in assisting with road fixes.
Frohnapfel was also extending an invitation for a Marshall County road trip to Byrd White, West Virginia’s new transportation secretary, and other state officials.
“South of the Mason-Dixon Line, south of Parkersburg is much different than the Northern Panhandle. We want them (state officials) to understand what we’re dealing with, what our local district is dealing with,” Fronapfel said.