Lawmakers should look into road bonds

Big promises were made by Gov. Jim Justice’s administration in 2017, in order to convince West Virginia voters to approve $1.6 billion in bond sales for the “Roads to Prosperity” initiative. The question now is whether those pledges will be fulfilled.

Brooke County commissioners agreed this week to send a letter to the state Department of Transportation, regarding the highway and bridge improvement program. “We learned we may have the money seriously reduced or the projects removed altogether,” explained Commissioner Tim Ennis.

His reference was to promises by state officials — sometimes in print and online — that hundreds of projects would be undertaken throughout the state if voters approved sale of bonds. In October 2017, they did.

Online state documents appear to reinforce Ennis’ concern. A map archived online by the state shows county-by-county plans for the “Roads to Prosperity” program. Released initially before the 2017 referendum, it indicated a total of 69 repair or improvement projects would be undertaken in the six Northern Panhandle counties.

But the state’s currently active website tracking “Roads to Prosperity” work shows only 45 projects in Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio, Tyler and Wetzel counties.

The best-laid plans sometimes have to be changed, of course. Money is the primary consideration in that.

Prior to approval of the bond sales, the Justice administration expected the $1.6 billion would attract nearly $1.8 billion in federal funds, providing a total of $3.38 billion for “Roads to Prosperity.” That figure has been scaled back to $2.8 billion.

Another concern is how much “Roads to Prosperity” money is being siphoned off to fund Justice’s campaign to repair secondary roads throughout the state.

Brooke County commissioners — and perhaps many residents of the Northern Panhandle — are right to be upset that promises made to voters may not be kept.

It is an issue into which state legislators should look. Many West Virginians voted in favor of the bond sale because they were promised repairs and improvements to specific roads in their areas. If those pledges are not kept, the Justice administration will have an enormous amount of explaining to do