Thrasher Calls Justice Secondary Road Maintenance Efforts ‘Knee Jerk’
NITRO — Standing alongside a road filled with holes and shoddy patchwork, Republican candidate for governor Woody Thrasher criticized Gov. Jim Justice Tuesday for waiting three years into his term to care about secondary road maintenance.
Thrasher held a press conference Tuesday along W.Va. 25, near downtown Nitro, to lay out a plan for keeping West Virginia’s more than 34,000 miles of secondary roads maintained.
“I thought it was important that if you’re running for governor and thinking about how to solve the state’s problems you need to come forth and say this is how I’d approach this particular problem,” Thrasher said.
The Thrasher campaign chose Nitro as their backdrop after Mayor David Casebolt took to Twitter July 3 to update his constituents about a meeting he and city officials had with the state Division of Highways regarding the condition of Rt. 25.
“When you look at the condition of the roadway, this is what is to be expected,” Thrasher said, pointing to Rt. 25 behind him. “I’m actually sorry to tell you that a lot of places, and I told the mayor earlier, a lot of places in West Virginia would be thrilled to have this quality of road because on many roads in West Virginia, they’re borderline impassable.”
Thrasher said the problem is statewide, pointing to states of emergency called by Marshall, Hancock, and Preston counties.
“This is a problem we got into a long time ago. We simply did not dedicate the resources to road maintenance, particularly to primary and secondary highways — those highways primarily funded with state dollars. We simply did not give them the level of attention for maintenance that was required.”
The co-founder of The Thrasher Corp., a multi-million-dollar engineering, construction, and design firm, Thrasher said he was no stranger to highway projects.
“I can tell you that for the folks who have been in this industry for a long time, it’s no surprise.” Thrasher said. “It’s not complicated to maintain a roadway. It’s about drainage, drainage and drainage.”
Thrasher credited former state Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox – who served under former governors Joe Manchin and Earl Ray Tomblin – for creating a core maintenance plan in 2010. That plan called for roads to be patched every year, ditches to be cleared every three years, and the sides of roads to be moved three times a year.
A legislative audit released in January found that counties were not spending 70 percent of their budget on these core maintenance activities as required. Between 2009 and 2017, only two out of the 13 counties in districts 4 and 5 hit that 70 percent goal for core maintenance activities.
“The state has not come anywhere close to meeting those goals for the last eight years,” Thrasher said. “It’s been a reflection of the highway department not having sufficient resources necessary to do that maintenance.”
Thrasher called Justice’s firing of former Transportation secretary Tom Smith in March a mistake. Thrasher called Justice’s 20-minute speech to the state’s highways supervisors and engineers pointless, and the emergency DOH teams he sent to Marshall, Preston, and Hancock counties a short-term Band-Aid that was taking resources from other counties to the counties getting the most media attention.
“Let me tell you what I don’t think the appropriate solution is. It’s not a knee jerk reaction to solve the problem,” Thrasher said. “It looks good for a very short term, but it is certainly no long-term solution to the highways problems we have. Very misguided.”
Thrasher said the Division of Highways should focus exclusively on secondary road maintenance, with primary roads handled by private contractors. He called for additional funding for highway maintenance, citing the 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways report which called for $700 million annually for road maintenance.
While Thrasher did not specifically name where that $700 million would come from, Justice’s use of nearly $150 million surplus tax collections was only a short-term solution, he said. He also cautioned against diverting any money from the Roads to Prosperity projects as previously suggested by Justice early in the year.
“I think it is very, very important not to divert monies from Roads to Prosperity, which we’ll be paying for over the next 30 years,” Thrasher said. “That makes no sense at all.”
According to the DOH website, more than 4,000 miles of roads have been ditched and bladed, and more than 64,000 tons of patching have been completed between March 16 and May 19. The website, which was supposed to be updated weekly, doesn’t have any current numbers.
Mike Lukach, campaign manager for Justice, said Justice has made a lot of progress on roads while his predecessors let the roads deteriorate.
“Governor Justice inherited a mess with the road system in West Virginia and from day one pushed for a $915 million road bond to fix our roads,” Lukach said. “There is still a lot of work to do but taking cheap shots isn’t going to get us there. Under Governor Justice’s leadership we have repaired more miles of roads than any Governor in recent history and he’s not going to rest until every road in the state is the best in the country.”