Preston Commission continues to seek meeting with state transportation secretary

KINGWOOD — State Transportation Secretary Tom Smith hasn’t agreed to meet with Preston commissioners by phone or in person, but they aren’t giving up.

“They’ve done a great job of trying to brush us off. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Commission President Craig Jennings said at Monday’s meeting.

Also at the meeting, the director of Friends of the Cheat said bad roads are starting to impact recreational business in Preston. In the spring, the Cheat Canyon Downriver Race will be a qualifying race for the World Whitewater Paddling Championships, she announced, and competitors will be funneled onto bad roads.

“We are letting opportunity pass us by because we are too busy dodging potholes,” Amanda Pitzer wrote in a letter to the state Division of Highways (DOH). The commission asked her to send the letter to show the impact of roads on Preston’s  economy.

At the commission’s direction, County Administrator Kathy Mace has been trying for a month to set up a driving tour, in-person meeting or phone conference with Smith. Commissioners want to discuss a slip on W.Va. 72  that has reduced the road to one-lane.

“We can email stuff all day long, but I think it’s important,” to see situations in person, Jennings said. Commissioners Don Smith and Dave Price agreed.

“When Donnie [Williams] was here, I think we finally got the point across,” Jennings said, referring to former District 4 Engineer  Williams. But no one since has seemed to get the point, he said.

“Part of the issue is they’re almost like the town drunk, they’ve got to admit that they’ve got a problem, and they won’t admit they’ve got a problem,” Jennings said.

It was Jennings’ final commission meeting. He did not seek re-election. He urged Price, Smith and incoming Commissioner Samantha Stone not to drop the issue with the DOH.

County Commissioner Smith said he plans to visit Secretary Smith when he goes to Charleston for Preston and Monongalia Day at the Legislature.

“The more we go down there and harass them, that’s the only thing they’ll listen to,” Smith said. “Because their thing is they just want to wait us out and figure we’ll just get tired, and that will be the end of it.”

In a Dec. 12 email to Mace, Smith’s Executive Assistant/Legislative Liaison Lorrie Hodges said that, if the county would provide a list of road concerns, she would get information from state and district engineers. Secretary Smith would review the information before sending it on to the county, Hodges wrote.

She also said Darby Clayton of District 4 told her he had, “reported a schedule with the slip and road repair,” to The Dominion Post and Del. Buck Jennings, R-Preston.

In November, Clayton told The Dominion Post that a design was under way to repair the slide. He did not give a detailed schedule.

“Fixing this road (W.Va. 72) is a priority and is being addressed. We have beaucoup slides in other areas of District 4 that are also being taken care of,” Clayton said then.

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