NITRO, W.Va. — The governor’s race has come to West Virginia’s crumbling roads.
Republican candidate Woody Thrasher, a former state Commerce Secretary, stood alongside bumpy W.Va. 25 in Nitro and gave his pitch for improving the state’s roads.
Thrasher said he would focus state highways workers on secondary roads and contractors on primary roads. He would emphasize drainage and mowing. He would devote more money to the care of roads.
Gov. Jim Justice in recent months has emphasized many of those same cures.
But Thrasher said there’s a difference.
“Easy. A plan,” he said with the rumbling sound of cars and trucks behind him.
“It’s not that knee-jerk reaction. It’s a well-conceived plan.”
Where Justice has sent “SWAT units” into counties to take care of damaged roads, Thrasher says he would be consistent from the start.
Another Republican candidate, former Delegate Mike Folk, said Thrasher, as the head of a leading engineering company in West Virginia, should bear some responsibility for the road conditions.
“If the infrastructure is worse now than when he started, that’s not a glowing endorsement of him as governor,” Folk said.
Folk agreed, though, that progress on roads has seemed slow.
“I’ve driven Route 50 from state line to state line,” he said. “The biggest problem I see are slips. Why does it take three months to get a slip?”
Roads have been a hot-button issue in West Virginia for months.
Preston, Marshall and Hancock counties have declared emergencies over the condition of their roads. Justice, a day after the regular legislative session ended, fired state Transportation Secretary Tom Smith.
Justice, shortly after that, gathered top-level highways department employees at the state Culture Center to kick off a short brainstorming session on how best to fix the roads.
The current administration asked the Legislature for millions more dollars in road funding during recent special sessions.
“Governor Justice inherited a mess with the road system in West Virginia and from day one pushed for a $915 million road bond to fix our roads,” stated Mike Lukach, the campaign manager for Justice’s re-election bid.
“There is still a lot of work to do but taking cheap shots isn’t going to get us there. Under Governor Justice’s leadership we have repaired more miles of roads than any Governor in recent history and he’s not going to rest until every road in the state is the best in the country.”
Thrasher agreed that Justice made roads an emphasis when he was first elected. But he suggested Justice ran off course with the Roads to Prosperity bond program.
Thrasher said Roads to Prosperity should continue to emphasize highways construction. But he said the state also should focus on road maintenance.
“He’s trying to take the Roads to Prosperity money earmarked specifically for new construction and divert it to the maintenance he’s neglected, never once stopping to craft a sustainable plan for truly fixing our roads and keeping them that way,” Thrasher stated.
Thrasher said recent state budget surpluses should be devoted to road repair and maintenance. He agreed, though, that the surpluses are likely to be subject to economic ups and downs.
Beyond broader economic growth, he was not specific about where more road money might be identified.
“The governor touts these surpluses we have every month, so I think that’s a good place for that money,” he said. “Without question this is going to take more money to maintain these primary and secondary roads the way they should be maintained.”
He added, “So where does the money come from? Like everything, a variety of places.”
Thrasher said he’s heard a consistent message as he has traveled West Virginia’s campaign trails.
“I hear it in every community I visit — our roads are worse than ever,’ Thrasher said, “and he’s trying to slap a showy bandage on a long-term crisis he’s turned a blind eye to for the past three years.”