After firing secretary, W.Va. governor pledges to fix roads
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Gov. Jim Justice pledged Wednesday to fix West Virginia’s neglected secondary roads and has installed a family business associate to head the state transportation department, just days after axing the agency’s previous leader.
The Republican governor said he will hire workers and buy equipment to shore up roads through a plan with an estimated price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I told the people of this state that we were going to fix the damn roads. That’s exactly what I told them, and I haven’t changed my philosophy in any way, shape or form or fashion,” he said.
The funding for the secondary road fixes will be pooled from revenue surpluses and bond money, Justice said, without settling on a precise figure. In 2017, voters passed a referendum for the state to sell $1.6 billion in bonds to finance state road repairs and construction, and the governor has previously proposed steering road bond money meant for major projects toward repairing secondary roads.
The governor also named as acting transportation secretary Byrd White, a special assistant to the state tax commissioner who also once ran a country club previously owned by Justice’s company. Justice described White as a certified public accountant who worked with his father and who “knows business” and “knows numbers.”
The transportation department shake-up kicked off on Sunday evening, when Justice announced in a short written statement that he had fired former state transportation secretary and highways commissioner Tom Smith, who has an extensive engineering background. The statement called for “a new direction” for the department, including “a return to the core mission of maintaining the quality of our secondary roads and bridges.”
A person who answered a phone number listed for Smith hung up on a call without commenting.
Justice also shifted blame for some of the secondary road problems onto previous administrations, taking aim at former governor and current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin as well as former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
“Back in the Manchin administration we disarmed ourselves and then we didn’t have any money when Earl Ray (Tomblin) was at the helm, and all of a sudden, before you know it, we have absolutely just created what I would call the all-time motherlode of a dog’s mess,” he said.
Manchin, a Democrat, fired back in a statement.
“Knowing Jim Justice’s character, it’s not a surprise for him to make a comment like this. He blames others for the work he hasn’t done,” Manchin said.