Editorials, Opinion

The 2 best road bills

And 1 bad resolution

Every West Virginia politician campaigns on fixing the roads, and yet every year, our Legislators fail to take any substantive action that would actually improve them.

The problem is always complicated by the fact that there are four types of roads: city, county routes, state routes and U.S. routes — and you can have all four types running through any given municipality. Cities are in charge of maintaining city-owned roads; the state is responsible for maintaining all the rest. And the state has fallen far behind on its maintenance duties.

There are two bills that could help fix this problem — and one resolution that would completely mess things up.

Let’s start with the resolution: SJR 3 — “The control, maintenance, and upkeep of all roads in this state shall be within the exclusive province of the counties ….” Here’s the problem: Counties are not responsible for the upkeep or repair of any roads. That means county governments do not have the funds or the equipment to do any kind of road work, so it would be like starting from scratch. Plus, a piecemeal approach would mean that at every county boundary, the roads could look like crossing West Virginia-Pennsylvania state line on Interstate 79.

On the other hand, SB 419 (same as HB 4730) and SB 569 would go a long way toward improving our road quality and maintenance.

SB 419/HB 4730 would rewrite the road funding formula to take into account not just the number of lane miles within a county, but also county population, projected population growth, number of vehicle miles (i.e., amount of use) and number of heavy truck miles. In terms of real value, counties with large population centers have been shorted by the current road formula for years. Heavy use makes roads deteriorate faster, which means they need fixed more often, which requires more money. The new formula would make sure road dollars are distributed more equitably to account for that.

Then there’s SB 569 that would codify what Morgantown has been trying to do for years. The bill says municipalities can request work to be done by the DOH. If the DOH hasn’t started that work within six months, the municipalities can complete the work themselves and bill the DOH for reimbursement, which the DOH must pay within six months.

The DOH has resisted this plan in the past, but it makes the most sense. The DOH says it is chronically understaffed and can’t get work done in certain areas; certain municipalities have shown they are able and willing to get road work done quickly. So if the municipality can do the legwork to keep state-owned roads in good shape, then the state and DOH should allow them to do so. And it’s only fair the state reimburses the cost, since the work is still technically the state’s responsibility.

These bills are stuck in committee. If you’d like to see SB 419 and SB 569 make the agenda, reach out to Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Charles Clements at charles.clements@wvsenate.gov or 304-357-7827; and for HB 4730, contact House Technology and Infrastructure Chair Daniel Linville at daniel.linville@wvhouse.gov or 304-340-3277.