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Settlement: Lawsuit’s resolution is good for state

Asked why they cannot get more done to keep Mountain State highways in good condition, state officials often point to the high cost of materials such as asphalt. It turns out they were right to focus on that. A solution to the problem was found not by the state Division of Highways, but by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office.

Last week, Morrisey and Gov. Jim Justice revealed 11 asphalt and paving companies have agreed to a gigantic settlement — $101.35 million — with the state. It came as a result of an anti-trust lawsuit filed in 2017 by the attorney general’s office, in cooperation with the Department of Transportation.

It was alleged certain practices were used to unlawfully eliminate competition in the asphalt business, pushing prices for the material higher in some areas of the state.

Among the 11 companies agreeing to settle the lawsuit — without admitting to any illegal behavior — were West Virginia Paving Inc., Kelly Paving Inc. and American Aggregate and Asphalt Inc. The three firms will make a total payment of $30.35 million to the state and local governments in Beckley, Bluefield, Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg and Kanawha County. In addition, West Virginia Paving will provide a $71 million credit that can be applied to highway projects during the next seven years.

Good for state officials for filing the lawsuit. The need for repairs to highways is among the biggest complaints many West Virginians have with state government. Learning DOH complaints about high materials prices were not just excuses gives the agency more credibility.

And the lawsuit gives the agency and some local governments more resources to handle repairs in the future.

Expensive taxpayer-funded projects such as road repairs and construction are temptations to unscrupulous business people. Both the DOH and Morrisey’s office, possibly with help from state Auditor J.B. McCuskey, should keep a close eye on such expenditures in the future. If last week’s settlement does not send the desired message, more lawsuits should be filed.

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