MORGANTOWN – The Legislature passed two bills during Monday’s brief special session to appropriate $150 million of Fiscal Year 2021 surplus funds for Division of Highways maintenance projects in all 55 counties.
Gov. Jim Justice announced the plan last week and included it in his special session call along with some bills to appropriate federal American Rescue Plan funds dedicated to the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Education.
Statewide, the money will pay for 402 projects: paving 482.84 miles, repairing 17 slips and slides and 40 bridges, and 111 other projects.
Locally, Monongalia County will get $4,241,550, Preston will get $4,601,700 and Marion will get $2,088,400.
The special session was sandwiched between interim meetings, and the Joint Finance Committee met before the session to discuss the governor’s plan, which came to him from the Division of Highways.
Transportation Secretary Byrd White told the committee all the projects were on the DOH long-term plan and the money will accelerate their completion. They chose projects that can be completed in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
He contradicted Justice’ statement last week that some of the projects will fill potholes. He and Deputy Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston said the paving projects will put new surface on roads that have been repaired and are ready for paving.
The two bills to appropriate the money and get it to DOH were HB 101 and 102 and the House took them up first, suspending its rules requiring bills to be read on three separate days in order to handle them in one sitting.
HB 101 garnered a small bit of opposition, apparently all from Republicans.
Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said the DOH has road money coming in from various sources, including Roads to Prosperity. “We’ve got an awful lot of money going towards our roads. … I think that we need to continue to improve the roads and I think we need to do it thoughtfully.”
There are other places that surplus money could be used, he said, that would align with legislators’ pledge last session to give taxpayers some relief.
Delegate Dana Ferrell, R-Kanawha, complained that money was coming to his county but not to his legislative district. He couldn’t vote for a bill, he said, where he and his constituents had no say on and will get no benefit from.
Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, supported the bill and the idea of expediting projects. “When these things can be caught early and repaired early they can be fixed for a fracion of the cost that it does when they’re left to stabilize,” he said.
Projects delayed just keep getting worse, he said, and he’s always been an advocate for acting proactively. Also, this will open up money for other maintenance projects on the DOH waiting list.
The House electronic voting system went down just before the vote on the bill was conducted and the vote had to be done by voice roll call. It passed 91-5 with four Delegates absent but the electronic record of who voted no was no available.
The passage of HB 101 made opposition to its companion, HB 102, futile and it passed 96-0, also in a voice roll call.
The Senate took up both bills a little later and passed them 29-0 with no discussion.
Mon County is slated for 10 projects. The most expensive will be a bridge expansion joint replacement on the Cpl. Thomas Bennett Memorial Bridge at I-79 mile marker 149, estimated at $1.7 million. U.S. 19 from Mon County 41, Indian Creek, to Westover will receive 5.2 miles of resurfacing at a cost of $728,000. Rounding out the top three, Halleck Road from Mon County 83 to W.Va. 73 will see 6.44 miles of resurfacing for $708,000.
Preston has 21 projects slated. Aurora Pike will get 4.04 miles of resurfacing for $606,000 and another 4.55 miles resurfaced for $523,250 George Washington Highway will get a slip repair starting at milepost 18.98 for $500,000.
Marion County has six projects on the list. U.S. 250 will get 7.66 miles resurfaced for $880,900 and Pleasant Valley Road will have 2.34 miles resurfaced for $430,000.
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, commented in an email conversation, “Some of the projects in Mon are roads I’ve driven on or gotten phone calls about recently and they are terrible. Although we can’t do everything with $150 million, it is good that some of these awful roads in our county are being done.”
The House and Senate also paved the way for the special redistricting session expected later this year, following arrival of the 2020 census data. The Legislature will draw new Senate and House districts – with 100 single-member House districts – and new U.S. House congressional districts, expected to be reduced from three two.
The House did its job via a unanimously approved motion to enable Speaker Roger Hanshaw to appoint a select committee on redistricting of not more than 24 members.
The Senate did it via a unanimously approved resolution, SR 103, enabling President Craig Blair to appoint a nine-member select committee.
Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, told the senators they typically would have received the census data by April but this year it’s delayed. They expect some by mid-August with the full report by the end of September.