Gov. Justice ask for secondary road maintenance suggestions from Division of Highways managers

Gov. Jim Justice greets Division of Highways employees during a meeting in Charleston Tuesday. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — During a brief meeting with Division of Highways district engineers and county supervisors Tuesday, Gov. Jim Justice told them to start coming up with roads in the state that need the most care.

DOH managers from all over the state, including some with 10-hour drives roundtrip, traveled to the Culture Center in Charleston on Tuesday for the 15-minute meeting. Justice was joined by Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy and Acting Transportation Secretary Byrd White.

Microphones were set up on either side of the stage, with Hardy and White having microphones of their own, but Justice did all the speaking Tuesday.

“The bottom line of the whole thing is we’re not getting the maintenance done,” Justice said. “Every single one of you are wanting to get that done. I know you’re wanting to do it so bad it’s unbelievable. I know you’ve been hamstrung.”

Justice asked the DOH district engineers and county supervisors to take 72 hours and compile a list of the roads in their counties with the most maintenance needs, then take another 24 hours to categorize the roads by priority.

“I really believe that you’re the backbone of everything,” Justice said. “I need you to tell us what you think.”

Last week, Justice announced plans to take a portion of the $913 million from the first round of general obligation bonds from the Roads to Prosperity program and use that for secondary road maintenance. How much is unclear, but revenue officials believe they can use some of the remaining bond funds by redesigning pending and accepting bids for projects that come in underneath projected costs.

Revenue officials also plan to use pay-as-you-go funding generated by the increased fuel taxes and Division of Motor Vehicles fees passed a few years ago that is being set aside to pay the debt service for future Roads to Prosperity bonds. Those monies will go towards secondary road maintenance, heavy equipment to complete the maintenance projects, and the hiring of temporary workers.

“We’re going to lean on Secretary Hardy to come up with as much dollars as he can possibly come up with,” Justice said. “Then you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to fix the damn roads.”

Justice also announced last week the hiring of White to manage the Department of Transportation on a temporary basis. White is a former executive in Jim Justice’s companies and a Raleigh County Commissioner. He replaces Tom Smith, who was fired by Justice on March 10.

“I’ve known Byrd forever and I know him as an honest guy,” Justice said. “He’s here because he cares, he really does.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, was in the audience Tuesday to hear what Justice had to say to the DOH staff. Blair proposed a similar meeting during the legislative session, but he expected more interaction and opportunity for the employees to voice their opinions.

“Doing something is better than nothing,” Blair said. “Getting them down and talking to them and giving them a directive … is always helpful, but I would have taken this opportunity if I was the governor to be able to break them out into groups and get more information from them so it would help me be able to do my job better. We didn’t even hear from the new transportation secretary.”