Committee looks to improve highways maintenance

February 14, 2019

Heeding constituents’ complaints about deteriorating roads, even after the issuance of more than $1.9 billion in road bonds in the past year, one House of Delegates committee began work Monday on legislation aimed at improving maintenance, or at least letting drivers see where the Division of Highways dollars are being spent.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out a way to direct them to complete maintenance work that has, for whatever reason, not been completed on schedule over the past several years,” House Technology and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Butler, R-Mason, said of one of the bills the committee is considering to accelerate road work statewide.

In committee meetings last week, Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said money freed up through the bond sales has allowed Highways to increase its roads maintenance budget from about $40 million a year to more than $200 million, but said even that is well short of the $750 million a year the governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways concluded is needed to bring all roadways up to states of good repair.

Butler said Monday passage of the Roads to Prosperity bond amendment in 2017 heightened constituents’ expectations about quality of state roads.

“Our executive made a lot of promises,” he said. “It’s easier to promise than it is to deliver, I guess you could say.”

On Monday, the House Committee began work on a bill that would at least make it easier for constituents to see where Highways’ dollars are being spent, calling for an upgrade to the state auditor’s wvcheckbook.gov transparency website to include a searchable database for ongoing road projects, with total amounts of expenditures.

The bill (House Bill 2012) would require Highways to work with the auditor’s office to come up with a system to transfer current data for posting on the website.

Also Monday, the committee advanced legislation to allow railroads to contract with transportation services other than state-licensed cab services to transport personnel (HB 2390).

Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, a retired railroad engineer, said engineers and conductors rely on cab companies to transport them from the home bases to their trains, and back after they reach their maximum duty hours.

He said that while most cab companies in the state are good quality, there are instances of train crews being picked up in unsafe vehicles or by sleepdeprived drivers.

“They’re very concerned for their safety,” he said of railroad crews. “They have no choice in it. Whatever shows up, they expect workers to get in it.”

Critics of the measure said many small town cab companies cannot survive without railroad business.

“This will end a number of cab companies,” said Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha. “That means that the little old lady that needs to get to the grocery store is not going to be able to do it.”

The bill now goes to Judiciary Committee.