Editorials, Opinion

Noisy politicians get good roads. Our reps must be louder

If your road is pitted with potholes or rippled like W.Va. 7’s Hogback Turn, has overgrown foliage spilling into the roadway or grass taller than you along the ditches or medians, then there’s a good chance you live along a state-maintained road.

That’s not a guarantee, but it is a good bet. And it’s why terrible roads were the topic of an informal meeting between Mon County commissioners and representatives from the City of Morgantown and Star City last week. Local municipalities have been dedicating a lot of money and effort to maintaining and repairing city-owned streets, but they aren’t allowed to touch state-owned roads — of which there are many — running through and in between towns and out into the county.

And the county and cities have repeatedly asked the Division of Highways to address these problem roads, requesting face-to-face meetings with DOH and proposing possible solutions. In response, they’ve received nothing but crickets. (In defense of DOH District 4 — made up of Monongalia, Preston, Marion, Harrison, Doddridge and Taylor counties — it is severely understaffed and needs more support from the central office.)

During last week’s meeting, Morgantown City Manager Kim Haws made a valid point: “I hate to say it, but politics play a big role with DOH and those areas that seem to get the most attention around the state have the most active state-level politicians.”

Our local delegates and senators have been trying for a long time to get attention for Mon County roads, however, since most of our representatives have a “D” next to their names, the Republican supermajority has largely ignored them.  But now there are two Republicans — Sen. Mike Oliverio and Delegate Joe Statler — speaking on our behalf.

Since they are members of the majority party, we need them to be louder.              

Part of the problem is the state isn’t obligated to follow its own formula for allocating road funds — which has resulted in District 4 being shortchanged an estimated $7 million to $8 million per year. In 2019, Delegate John Williams proposed a law to enforce a road-funding formula that would take usage and population, not just number of miles, into account. His bill passed the Legislature, but Gov. Jim Justice vetoed it.

Unfortunately, the bill hasn’t been able to garner the same bipartisanship since, constantly languishing in committee — even the ones Oliverio and Statler introduced in the last regular session. We suspect District 4 isn’t the only one getting shortchanged and the bill would likely receive ample bipartisan support if it could ever make it to a full-chamber vote. But for that to happen, Oliverio and Statler need to find fellow Republicans who can get the bills past the committee.

And if the funding formula gets too much pushback from the DOH (as it has in the past), then we need our representatives to advocate for a compromise.

Morgantown has already offered to either take possession of certain state roads that run within the city, or to do the work — since it has the manpower and resources — and be reimbursed by the state when the work is complete. This may actually be the better option, especially if other municipalities get onboard. It would allow problem areas to be addressed faster.

Our roads desperately need attention. If takes noisy politicians in Charleston to get that attention, then we need our representatives to be loud and persistent. And we need our two reps in the Republican supermajority to be the loudest and most persistent of all.