We wish Byrd White III, the state’s newly anointed Director of Transportation, all of the luck and goodwill there is in the world. Having been handed the task of assembling, aligning and prioritizing all road repair projects across this wild, wonderful and mountainous landscape, he will need all good fortune sent his way to satisfy even his best of friends.
Speaking of whom, Gov. Jim Justice, who went missing for much of the recent legislative session, appeared from behind the curtain to demand action on state roads, directing all 10 highway district managers to put together a list of needed repairs from their respective share of all 55 counties – inside 72 hours.
Which, of course, is preposterous.
The governor should know that all state roads, long neglected, need work – from potholes, to slips, to drainage, to ditches, to culverts, to bridge replacements and more – and that if the Department of Highways had been sufficiently funded, equipped and staffed over the years, the state may not be facing such a crisis today – or at least not one of this magnitude.
But here we are, once again, making up for lost time in the Mountain State and going about finding a remedy as though the warning light just came on.
The governor has said he wants to find $240 million to repair local roads through three sources: Diverting some from the $915 million in bond money West Virginia has already tapped for “Roads to Prosperity” projects, using some “pay-as-you-go” revenue that had been intended to pay down future road bond debt and applying a portion of any state general revenue surplus.
We think it is highly suspect that a governor can move monies around as he pleases once they have been appropriated or directed by the will of the Legislature and a vote of the people. Besides, in this state, we get a little suspicious when our political leaders start moving monies around.
Our first question: Who profits? Our second: Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul?
We know that the condition of the state’s 38,000 miles of publicly-owned roads and bridges needs attention, and that is why we were fully supportive of both the bond and higher DMV fees. Back then, there was a plan – widely discussed and debated. We knew what we were getting, lawmakers wrote the legislation and we went to the polls and voted.
Now, all we know is that Justice is moving monies around, telling us that come hell or high water – more likely the latter, we hope – he is going to fix our roads.
“Trust me,” the governor seems to be saying while promising an “avalanche of work” beginning soon.
We would have preferred that the governor had shown up for work while our legislators were in session. Then would have been a good time, as the chief executive officer of our state, to bring various parties, highway experts and engineers together and write a “good roads” plan – perhaps financed by yet another bond or fee increase. Then, we would all have been in on the conversation. And we would not have lost a minute in getting to work.
What is as clear to us is that the state needs not a sudden fix but a long-term solution – one that includes increased funding year over year for the Department of Highways – if not for our counties – so that we can maintain our roads each and every year. Call it preventive medicine.
It’s one thing to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on an emergency repair of our two-lane highways – and certainly, that sum will cover only a fraction of them all – and quite another to wonder just how in the heck are we going to maintain those freshly laid ribbons of blacktop.
The governor chose to fly solo because, we can only assume, he thinks he knows better than the rest of us.
Well, here’s the latest, governor: In a story by Brad McElhinny of MetroNews, the state is in a legal battle with asphalt companies over allegations that they suppressed competition and drove up prices.
The consequences of that? According to outside counsel for the Department of Transportation, “The State may be forced to either delay road construction repairs or not pursue them at all ... .”
Seems like the governor might want to slow down a bit, have a more inclusive and constructive discussion with citizens and their representatives and give poor Byrd White a chance to put together a credible plan – one built of state need not of a governor’s hubris.