Priorities: DOH must put critical road repairs first

Pity the Division of Highways officials from throughout West Virginia who were given a tough assignment by Gov. Jim Justice. They have been told to prepare what amount to wish lists for secondary road repairs in each of the 55 counties.

Justice issued the mandate during a meeting last week in Charleston, to which he had summoned county and district DOH officials. He gave them 72 hours to compile lists of “everything you think is wrong.” He also asked for estimates on how much money they believe the DOH needs “to do aggressive maintenance, all the time.”

That second item is likely to be disheartening to the governor and state legislators. It has been estimated the DOH is hundreds of millions of dollars short of what it needs every year for maintenance.

Justice hopes to scrape together some money for an immediate assault on secondary road maintenance. His goal is $240 million.

That may help, but it is a one-shot deal. An ongoing solution is needed.

Even this year’s initiative will be frustrating. Justice’s plan may provide enough money for the DOH to make a good showing — but it will not take care of all the serious maintenance needs.

Which is where prioritizing will come into play. DOH officials preparing county-by-county lists will find themselves in competition with each other. Of course, the most pressing needs in each county ought to be addressed.

But some counties will have far more critical needs, possibly involving safety, than others. They will need proportionately more money to deal with those projects.

That flies in the face of conventional political practice, which is to spread the money around to please as many voters as possible.

So a non-political list of priorities needs to be established. The most critical needs, wherever they are, should be dealt with first.

Preparing the wish lists is the easy part. Paring them down to an objective schedule for doling out whatever money the governor can raise will be far more difficult. Good luck to the DOH in doing that.