CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice and state Transportation Secretary Tom Smith pushed back Friday against recent criticism of Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program.
The two appeared at a state capitol news conference that was billed as an update of the multi-billion dollar program that’s being financed by a bonding process that was approved in a vote last October by state residents.
Smith’s initial comments focused on a recent letter from House of Delegates Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, who has expressed concern about the higher than expected bids on some more high-profile projects.
“I really take offense to what this letter says,” Smith said. “It accused the governor of deceiving the public. That is absolutely not true.”
Justice said he can take criticism but he feels bad for engineers and others with the state Division of Highways.
“For somebody to suggest that you are incompetent basically. That you didn’t have the foresight to be able to put together the proper estimates and design in your bid work, that’s shameful,” Justice told the crowd gathered for the news conference, part of which was made up of DOH workers.
Miley was sticking by his criticism in a series of tweets after the news conference. He attached an anonymous letter that he received from someone within the DOH who “confirms that it (the agency) routinely underestimates the cost of projects.”
Miley also requested further information from DOH workers.
“I will bring it to light. I could care less about the Governor’s childlike personal attacks,” Miley tweeted.
Justice said Miley was far from the truth.
“To think that it was brought out that I would deceive people or the secretary would deceive people or these great people would deceive voters—not only is shameful but it’s a lie,” Justice said.
Smith said bids for significant interstate work near Wheeling were approximately $100 million above estimates because both the scope of the project and economic conditions have changed.
“Who would have known that last year that we would have had the impact of steel tariffs on steel prices–that’s something you encounter that we have to manage our way through,” Smith said. “Who would have known that we would have soaring inflation when it comes to construction elements.”
Smith said those differences can be made up through a bonding process that could boost revenues by as much as $300 million because of bond premiums. He said the state will work through shifting costs while getting projects out to bid.
“We’re fully committed to that entire program that the governor talked about. Our job is to manage the plusses and the minuses to get there,” Smith said.
There have been 225 projects already completed under the Roads to Prosperity program, most of them smaller projects, Smith said. He added the state currently has $1.3 billion in the bank with more to come along with $300 million in projects already under bid.
Gov. Justice spent a significant portion of the news conference, approximately 7:27, once again criticizing the Charleston Gazette-Mail for what Justice considers negative reporting. Friday he took aim at an op-ed piece that was in Friday’s edition that heavily criticized him.
“I’m not just beating up on the Gazette but I’m telling the brass tax facts,” Justice said. “They have driven business and people away from our state. It’s just fact.”
Justice said the state is facing enough negative news including the possible impeachment of four justices of the state Supreme Court.
“I hope to goodness the Gazette will get on board,” Justice said.
When asked by a Gazette-Mail reporter if he would address the steel tariff issue with President Donald Trump the governor criticized the question and said Trump has done many great things for both the state and country.