CHARLESTON — Sen. Randy Smith was inspired by Jim’s Dream, which is Gov. Jim Justice’s vision for addiction treatment and job training.
So Smith stood up during a Senate floor session Wednesday and presented Randy’s Dream.
“My dream is, fix the darn roads,” said Smith, R-Preston.
Several of his fellow senators, all of whom said they hadn’t planned to make a speech, stood in support of his sentiment.
The Senate’s outpouring of support for road repair came a day after a public forum for a caucus of representatives from north-central West Virginia, all of whom pleaded for attention to secondary roads.
Speaker after speaker at that public forum noted that while a multi-million dollar bond issue to build new roads was touted, the roads they travel on each day suffered from inattention.
They described the need for better funding as well as more efficiency from the state Division of Highways.
Spotted in a Capitol hallway and asked when more information would be ready about fixing secondary roads, state Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said, “We’re working on options. That’s where we are.”
Randy Smith’s remarks on the Senate floor were meant to draw attention to the secondary roads that trouble drivers.
“The number one complaint is roads, especially Preston County,” he said. “They really have a problem in Preston County. Preston County and Mon County, we hear about them all the time. We don’t do anything about it, and that’s where Randy’s Dream comes in.”
Smith advocated not only for additional funding for roads but also for changes to managerial status quo such as funding formula or the contracting of jobs.
If not, he said, “I honestly believe we’d give them $1 billion and they’d spend it the same way they do now.”
One by one, fellow senators from both parties rose and agreed.
Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways from 2012. Plymale said West Virginia continues to provide millions of dollars less than is really necessary to keep up state roads.
“Part of the problem is deferred maintenance,” said Plymale, who added water that is allowed to stand on roads eventually wears down the surface.
“The challenge that Tom Smith as Secretary of Transportation, has is the problem we’ve had in years past,” Plymale said. “We didn’t do deferred maintenance.”
Plymale said the available money just hasn’t been stretching far enough.
“It won’t even scratch the surface if you put $5 million per district in there. You’re going to have to put in $10 million to $15 million per district,” he said. “We hear this. We’d better do something about it.”
Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, also served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.
“This is not just a recent problem,” Beach said Wednesday.
He pointed to bottlenecks with the flow of money in districts as well as with hiring for highways.
“I think we know what some of the problems are,” Beach said. “We just have to muscle down and really take it on.”
Justice received a standing ovation during his State of the State address as he recognized the problem last week.
The governor praised progress from the road bond passed last year, but said more resources need to go toward secondary roads.
“We’ve done — I don’t know how many, but it’s hundreds of projects already. Here’s the very thing, though, that we need to do: We’ve got to shift a little bit of the focus — and we have had extensive discussions with the bond holders and everything else, that we can do this,” he said.
“We’ve got to pull some of the money out of the bigger projects and move some of the money — or significantly more money. Not more than all the big projects, but a little bit of additional monies over to fix more of our secondary roads.”
Those who spoke earlier this week from the road caucus said road bond money should not be diverted toward secondary roads maintenance.
Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, told lawmakers on Wednesday the road problems have resulted from an annual spending gap.
“I fear people think the $2.8 billion bond issue we passed is going to solve the problem,” Swope said. “It won’t solve the problem.”
Sen. Smith called on his colleagues to continue pressing the issue.
“Push this highway administration to change their policies,” Smith said. “Before I leave here, I’d love to have Randy’s Dream fulfilled.”