Government, News

After mandate from Gov. Justice, state transportation secretary to tour Preston Roads today

KINGWOOD — State Transportation Secretary Tom Smith is to tour Preston County roads today.

In a news release Tuesday, Gov. Jim Justice said he directed the Division of Highways to “immediately form a rapid response team to address road conditions in Preston County.”

“After Del. Terri Sypolt, House Majority Leader Amy Summers, other legislators and county officials brought to my attention the seriousness of this issue, I directed the Division of Highways to send an engineer to Preston County to determine road conditions, and based on that report, I decided that immediate action was needed,” Justice said.

“I want the people of north-central West Virginia to know that their complaints have not gone unnoticed and that we will get to the bottom of this problem and correct it,” Justice said in the release.
Preston Commissioner Sam-antha Stone said Smith called her Monday. Smith said he was coming to Preston to look at roads and asked her to accompany him.

“The fact that he called me, I was shocked,” Stone said.

When in Charleston recently, Stone spoke to Justice about the condition of Preston roads.

According to the governor’s release, Smith and a DOH team “will remain there until a plan of action is in place.” The release said the West Virginia National Guard also offered support to the DOH, but did not specify what the guard could or would do.

In 2018, Preston commissioners repeatedly asked Smith to tour county roads or participate in a conference call. He never did.

Speaking on Metro-News Talkline on Tuesday, Smith said he met with District 4 personnel. District 4 includes Mon, Preston, Marion, Harrison, Taylor and Doddridge counties.
Tuesday afternoon and today, they are driving around the area “with the idea that we’ll try to amp up what we need to do out here, based on what we see.”
Smith acknowledged money and labor are problems for the DOH. The Blue Ribbon Commission in 2013, “pointed out that highway funding in West Virginia is broken,” he said.
As for labor, he noted Preston County has a quota of 55 workers but is routinely 14 below that.
Now DOH faces a backlog of work, Smith said, but Justice wants to find a way to help secondary roads. Highways does what it
can with the available resources, he told Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval.
“We’re here to understand what’s going on in Preston County today,” Smith said. “I think
it’s been very clear with some of the conditions that have deteriorated up here that we need to give them attention.”
“Gov. Justice has asked me to pull together our DOH team to visit Preston County, travel and evaluate the roads throughout the county and meet with officials to address concerns regarding road conditions,” Smith said in a statement issued Tuesday.
“Our team of myself, State Highway Engineer Aaron Gillispie, Deputy Highway Engineer Greg Bailey, Chief Transportation Engineer Jimmy Wriston, District 4 Engineer Darby Clayton, Maintenance Engineer Michael Cronin and others will be spending the next two days doing just that. We will then report back to Gov. Justice, share our observations regarding a comprehensive, prioritized plan to make sure that we continue to respond to the transportation needs of not only Preston County, but every county in West Virginia.”
He said the DOH is going to focus more on maintenance activities, such as ditching.
Stone said recently an accident involving four Preston High students whose car hydroplaned may have been caused in part by water on the road because of lack of ditches. One of those students died from his injuries.
“This thing is finally getting some attention,” Preston Commission President Dave Price said Tuesday.
A year ago, Preston commissioners declared a state of emergency — which is still in effect — because of the condition of county roads. After that came the formation of the North Central Roads Caucus.
The brainchild of former Preston Commissioner Craig Jennings, the caucus includes county commissioners and state representatives from all the counties in District 4. Counties passed resolutions and their representatives introduced legislation to get the roads fixed.
Stone and Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom chair the caucus.

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