For Governor Jim Justice, all roads lead to… well, the roads.
The condition of the state’s roads, especially the secondary roads, has become the biggest issue currently confronting the Justice administration. The Governor has promised to “fix the damn roads.” That’s turning into a more difficult pledge for Justice to fulfill than when he promised the state’s economy would take off like a rocket ship.
Earlier this week, Justice was in Moundsville to announce a federal grant, but he was hit with complaints about the roads, forcing the Governor to acknowledge the magnitude of the crumbling infrastructure.
“I see that the program… we have in place isn’t going to be adequate from what you’re saying,” he told the frustrated citizens and local officials. “I see there is a mega-emergency here. I thought I knew that, but I can see it in your faces and in the tone of your voices that it’s worse than what I thought.”
Justice quickly dispatched Commissioner of Highways Jimmy Wriston to Moundsville to see for himself. Wednesday, local officials took him to, among other trouble spots, Sally’s Backbone Ridge Road, which has collapsed off the side of a hill and cut off a school bus route.
Sally’s Backbone Ridge Road is hardly an isolated case. There are road slides all across the state. Slides are far more dangerous than potholes, and far more expensive to fix. One of the reasons highway crews have fallen behind on routine maintenance is that they are spending so much time and resources on collapsed roads.
Justice promised to devote more attention to Marshall County and pledged to return every 45 days to check on the progress. That’s helpful for Marshall County—he did much the same for Preston County—but it also causes citizens and officials in the other 53 counties to cry out, “What about us?”
His administration has scraped up an additional $82.5 million that will be spent this fiscal year on ditching, replacing drains and paving. That’s going to help, but the needs are overwhelming. Years of postponed routine maintenance, staff, equipment and money shortages along with rough terrain, heavy traffic and bad weather have all contributed to deplorable roads.
Justice is correct when he says that the problem didn’t happen overnight. To his credit, he is now focusing considerable energy and resources toward fixing the roads. However, no matter how much road work is done, it’s never going to be enough.
Additionally, other counties may follow the lead of Preston and Marshall—declare an emergency and apply public pressure on the Governor for help. Many of Justice’s public appearances across the state may turn into opportunities for citizens to ask, cajole, beg, demand and shame Justice into providing more resources to fix their roads.
For now, at least, that’s where all roads traveled by the Governor will lead.