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Paying Now or More Later

We’ve seen some amazing coincidences during the past few years, haven’t we?

Take the Interstate 70 bridges in Ohio County. Isn’t it incredible that after decades of service, nearly all of them went bad at the same time?

Equally fascinating is the fact that decades passed during which little was said about the water systems in St. Clairsville and Steubenville — then they went to pot all at once.

And how can we forget the hundreds of miles of secondary roads in West Virginia that crumbled virtually at the same time during the past year, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars for repairs?

Well, the bridges didn’t all deteriorate badly at the same time. Neither did the Steubenville and St. Clairsville water systems, or the Mountain State’s secondary roads.

In fairness, it has to be noted that pipes and pumps, bridges and roadways, all deteriorate over time. But routine maintenance and a regular schedule of replacements can stretch out the cost of keeping any system in good condition — if they are done conscientiously. A few million here, a few million there can avoid having to spend lots of millions ($211 million for the I-70 bridges) at once.

But it wasn’t done.

We know what happened in St. Clairsville and Steubenville. City officials just didn’t want to tell taxpayers they needed to spend money over the course of decades. That caught up to the two cities. Big rate increases had to be implemented this year in Steubenville. Some St. Clairsville officials are ready to throw up their hands and sell the water and sewer systems rather than try to repair them.

All because some politicians in the past didn’t have the nerve to tell voters they needed to spend a few dollars years ago to avoid really big bills in, say, 2018-19.

Division of Highways officials — and road crew workers, I suspect — know they haven’t been doing enough regular maintenance and repairs. The DOH’s budget presentation earlier this year stated officials wanted enough money to resurface roads about once every 12 years, on average. The true average during the past few years has been closer to resurfacing every 20-25 years.

Except for fiscal 2018, when the DOH claims to have resurfaced nearly 30% of the state’s highways — but only by using “Roads to Prosperity” money.

You will recall that came from a $1.6 billion bond issue approved by voters. We’ll be paying it off for many years to come — and even that alleged nearly 30% of roads repaved left us with, well, junk highways in some areas of the state.

Gov. Jim Justice is engaging in a crash program to repair secondary roads this year, possibly with an eye to his reelection bid in 2020.

I’m not certain — and I wonder whether anyone is — how much money is being spent on secondary roads this year. My guess is that the DOH is dipping heavily into Roads to Prosperity bond money and, perhaps, funds that normally would have been reserved for maintenance and repair work next spring and summer. That will come back to haunt us in an expensive fashion.

It’s all a matter of paying now or paying much more later — and for too long, the politicians at all levels have been betting on later, when they’re out of office and it’s someone else’s problem.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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