It would not surprise me if every West Virginia Governor has a recurring nightmare about the state’s roads. Imagine waking up in a cold sweat after a graphic dream where you are drowning in a giant pothole or being besieged by pitchfork and torch-toting West Virginians angry over the condition of their roads.
Roads may be inanimate, but they are also quite personal, particularly in a rural state. The road in front of someone’s house isn’t just a state highway, it’s “my road.” The state Department of Transportation is responsible for over 35,000 miles of roads. That’s enough pavement to stretch from New York to San Francisco a dozen times.
Also, West Virginia has over 1.1 million licensed drivers and every one of those motorists has a road or roads they travel regularly, and that’s their road. I imagine the state could pave 34,995 miles of highway to a glossy asphalt finish, but if the five miles you drive to and from work or school is crumbling then in your world West Virginia has “bad roads.”
None of this is to excuse the state for the condition of the roads, and according to the latest edition of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll, the vast majority of state residents we questioned (registered voters) believe a lot more work needs to be done on the roads.
A whopping 75 percent of voters are dissatisfied with their condition. Within that group, 42 percent say they are very dissatisfied and 33 percent say they are somewhat dissatisfied. Just 16 percent said they are happy with the condition of the roads.
The state has been pouring more money into roads—an additional appropriation from the Legislature, plus road bond money—and the Justice administration has personally instructed the leaders of the Division of Highways to catch up on the necessary routine maintenance that’s been ignored for years. Highways has also bought a lot of brand new equipment.
Highways has even rolled out a useful interactive map so West Virginians can track how much ditching, patching and paving has been done, and what projects are underway or completed. You can also request a particular repair job.
This administration has made roads a priority, but the poll shows most West Virginians aren’t seeing any improvement. The MetroNews West Virginia Poll shows that only 31 percent see progress on secondary roads, while 69 percent say they see “very little or nothing at all.”
The numbers are a little better on primary roads where 52 percent say “a great deal” or “some” work has been done, while 47 percent say they don’t see any progress.
Roads also have a can’t-win-for-losing element to them. We love new roads, but hate road construction and related traffic interruptions. So even when the roads are being fixed, motorists are frustrated by delays. When I see orange barrels and construction crews, I see progress toward #FTDR (fix the damn roads), but I’m probably an outlier.
Division of Highways figures show there has been progress on improving the state’s roads, but as Deputy Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston says, it’s like how you eat an elephant—one bite at a time.