Session provides additional funds for road projects

CHARLESTON — Monday’s resumption of the special session not only fixed some bill vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice in March, but also included nearly $100 million in additional funding for secondary roads in West Virginia.

Three bills introduced by Justice Monday included supplemental appropriations to move money into the Division of Highways for the remaining fiscal year and the next fiscal year starting July 1. The total amount moved was $98 million dollars.

“I asked the legislature to approve this additional highway maintenance funding because I want our Division of Highways to be able to continue the great work they’ve started with our maintenance-first initiative,” Justice said in a statement Monday night after the legislature adjourned until a later date to resume the special session on education betterment.

Senate Bill 1016 and Senate Bill 1019 transferred $54 million to the Division of Highways for secondary road maintenance for fiscal year 2020.

“These bills refocus our priorities to improving the roads our citizens drive the most,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley. “These bills will allow our highways crews to start correcting years of neglect due to misplaced administrative priorities and lack of funds.”

To find the additional DOH funding for fiscal year 2020, Justice raised revenue projections for the second time in the last five months by $42 million. Another $30 million was available through unappropriated monies from the current fiscal year, creating a $72 million pot of money to take the $52 million from.

House Bill 119 transferred another $34.5 million to DOH to finish secondary road projects between now and June 30. With the moving of funds from non-maintenance accounts, that brings the total to $44 million, with additional authority to roll over any unused funds to secondary road maintenance starting in July.

Justice has been working with Transportation Secretary Byrd White and Division of Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston to re-focus the agency on secondary road maintenance after a flood of complaints from the public, lawmakers, and county officials, some of whom have declared states of emergency because of the conditions of their roads. Since changing focus March 16, nearly 3,632 miles of roads have been ditched, more than 458,000 feet of culverts cleaned, and 42,935 tons of asphalt used for patching.

“Secretary White, Commissioner Wriston, and all the hardworking men and women of the Division of Highways are doing an incredible job, and with this additional funding will be able to do even more great work. I also want to express my sincere appreciation and congratulations to the Legislature on this bipartisan effort to approve this spending in an area where we all agree it’s desperately needed,” Justice said.

The secondary road projects are going on alongside the Roads to Prosperity projects. More than $917 million is available through the first-round of general obligation bonds for new major road construction and renovation projects. Tom Smith, the former secretary of transportation, was the face of these projects, but he was fired by Justice for not having a plan for secondary road maintenance.

“While the Roads to Prosperity bond issue will fund new highway construction, most West Virginians still want to see the roads they drive every day to work or school fixed first,” Householder said.

Lawmakers were largely in support of the additional secondary road funding, but now that the funding is in place, they expect to see some action now.

“Now let’s make sure the governor knows that the ball is in his court now to fix the roads,” said state Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel. “It’s not in our hands. We’ve done all we can do. We’ve given the money and continue to put money into roads. Now it’s up to him to carry the ball across the finish line.”

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