Delegates ask if secondary roads are getting adequate treatment

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Delegates asked West Virginia’s transportation secretary how an influx of road bond money is affecting work on secondary roads.

Many of the questions came from Delegate Larry Rowe, who asked about money dedicated toward secondary roads rising over the next few years but then dissipating toward the later years of the bond period.

Larry Rowe

“I’m concerned with pothole repair, resurfacing,” said Rowe, D-Kanawha, during a budget hearing for the Department of Transportation.

Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said about a billion dollars of highway work has gone out already, with much of it dedicated to secondary roads. But Smith said there’s a backlog of preservation because West Virginia went so long without a necessary influx.

Rowe said, “I candidly think a lot of folks who supported the bond issue envisioned we’d have new money for big projects coming in on the bond issue, freeing up money for the little stuff, the potholes.”

“Did that happen?” Rowe asked. “Can you identify a substantial infusion of money toward simple pothole repair.”

Tom Smith

“Yes, we have ramped up,” Smith said. “We have a finite amount of money and you have to fit it in the lines of the budget.”

Such questions about roads have been common this legislative session. Community members from north central West Virginia had a public forum at the Capitol a few weeks ago to plea for improvements to secondary roads.

Senator Randy Smith, R-Tucker, has made several floor speeches asking for better road maintenance.

Rowe said he’s still trying to get a sense of what’s happening with secondary roads.

“Are we fulfilling the promise we made to our constituents on the bond issue?” he asked. “I just don’t feel the pothole part of it.”

In the Capitol hallway, after the budget hearing, Smith elaborated.

“During the years of the road bond, we have swelled the dollars we were using for maintenance,” he said. “When we didn’t need dollars for debt service, we tried to use that on a pay-a-you-go basis to go out and work on the smaller roads. We’ve had an unprecedented level of work there.

“Governor Justice has asked us to try to do more. People are really anxious about their local roads. We are too, and we’re trying to do that.”

But in a few years, he acknowledged, less will be available for secondary roads because focus will have to shift to retiring the debt service.

“Eventually as we need the dollars for debt service, we’ll have to tie them up there,” he said. “And so you have that swelling that happens during the years of the road bond, and then over time it returns back unless there’s other resources. We have to live within our means.”

Smith said the Department of Highways is still working with the Governor’s Office on a call to devote even more to secondary roads.

“We’re trying to work on that as soon as we can,” he said. “The Governor’s Office has been very, very interested and has asked us to look at options. We have, and we’re moving as quick as we can.”

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