Editorials, Opinion

Whose road is it?

Frustration can be a powerful motivating force — if directed correctly. 

And there’s a lot of frustration over the disastrous state of roads in and around Morgantown. We frequently receive letters to the editor complaining about road conditions. Social media practically thrums with all the pent-up frustration from drivers who are fed up with crumbling asphalt and holes so deep they can swallow a tire whole. 

That frustration is rightfully directed at elected officials who have repeatedly promised to “fix the roads” and seemingly never deliver. So while we highly encourage people to write letters or emails or make phone calls demanding deteriorating streets be addressed, those correspondences must be directed to the correct elected officials in order to be effective. 

Conventional wisdom would say that any street within a city’s limits is a city street, and therefore the city’s responsibility to maintain. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. 

Many of the roads we hear people complain about the most are state, county or U.S. routes — which means they are the West Virginia Division of Highways’ (read: the state’s) responsibility. Municipalities cannot legally do any work to non-city streets without the state’s permission. 

The City of Morgantown maintains a map of all roads within city limits, color-coded to indicate if a street is a city, state, county or U.S. road. You can find that map here: tinyurl.com/4xy9ukcp

Notably, a surprising number of downtown streets are actually U.S. routes. University Avenue — which traverses Morgantown nearly from one end to the other — is a city street, a county route and a U.S. route at different points. State route W.Va. 7 encompasses Brockway Avenue, East Brockway Avenue and Earl L. Core Road — and every bump, ripple, crack and pothole on them belongs to the state. 

Morgantown and the Monongalia County Commission have tried to negotiate with the DOH to take over some of the repairs. Morgantown offered to facilitate pothole patching on state roads in exchange for reimbursement; the state said no. The commission — which doesn’t have authority over any road, even “county routes” — launched an orphan road grant program for the streets that seem to belong to no one, but it requires residents along the road to help by privately raising money for the repairs. 

For the last several years, Delegates John Williams and Evan Hansen have been championing a new road funding formula that would divvy up money to DOH districts more equitably, accounting for road usage instead of just road miles. Their funding formula came close to becoming law a few years ago when the bill passed both chambers, but Gov. Jim Justice vetoed it. As the Legislature’s Republican supermajority has grown, the formula hasn’t been able to regain its previous support. 

We asked Williams if he thought his funding formula could have helped make the roads in the Greater Morgantown Area better. His answer, in short, was yes and no. 

The formula would have allocated more money to the DOH district in which Morgantown resides, so there would be more funding for road repair. The real problem, he said, is there’s a shortage of DOH workers in our area to complete the construction. And that, unfortunately, is something that can only really be fixed by implementing locality pay, which is set by state statute and has to be addressed separately by the Legislature. Part of the reason city roads are usually in better shape is the city can pay workers more, so more people are willing to do the work. 

If you’re frustrated over the condition of a specific road, first check if it’s a city road. If it is, reach out to Morgantown Engineering & Public Works and (politely) request it be fixed. If it’s not a city road, contact the DOH at 833-WVROADS.  

And if the DOH doesn’t fix it, you can address your frustrations to the    elected state officials in the Legislature who promised to fix the roads but won’t act on legislation to address the problems. You can find legislators’ contact information at https://www.wvlegislature.gov/.