WSAZ Investigates | The Promised Roads

Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 7:12 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - For years, West Virginia has received a poor grade on the state’s roads and bridges.

According to the 2020 infrastructure report card, West Virginia received a D-plus, ranking below the national average.

The same report card found 7% of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient. West Virginia has three times that amount.

From miles of orange cones to navigating road slips and changes in traffic patterns, drivers in West Virginia feel their frustrations from behind the wheel.

“We’re sick and tired of it. It feels like they left us with nothing,” said Gary Anderson.

Other drivers took their frustrations straight to the pavement, spray-painting a message reading “Caution, your tax dollars at work.”

The drivers hoped to get the attention of the West Virginia Division of Highways to patch potholes, and it worked. The DOH responded to drivers’ calls for action.

As for Anderson, it’s been years of waiting and holding onto the slight glimpse Gov. Jim Justice promised in 2017.

“They’re going to fix old roads and potholes, so you don’t tear your car up going to the convenience store and going to be building new roads. Those jobs could total as many as 48,000. It’s off the chart what’s right in front of us,” Justice said during a news conference in August 2017.

In 2017, when voters passed the referendum, the state promised to spend $3 billion to fund 500 projects, including several along Interstates 64, 79, and 77.

It’s been five years since then, and voters feel indifferent about whether the governor fulfilled his promise.

WSAZ asked the WVDOT for a list of the Roads to Prosperity projects, but they referred us to the website.

As of July 2021, WSAZ found there are currently 1,246 projects on the list. Of those, 982 projects were added since 2019, according to the WVDOT’s website.

According to the data available, only 383 projects are completed.

WSAZ also asked the WVDOH multiple times for updated numbers that would include projects from 2017 and 2018, but it was never provided.

In West Virginia currently, there is $3.6 billion worth of active Roads to Prosperity construction ongoing.

“In the Northern part of the state and the Eastern panhandle, we need to finish Corridor H. It’s an artery that’s vital. In the southern part of the state, the Coalfield Expressway. Everything has been setting for 10 million years, I mean for God’s sake of living, we need to finish it,” Justice said. “There all kinds of other projects all across our state that are important but absolutely, what we have got to continue to do is be able to stretch our dollars as far as we possibly can and everything.”

Drivers can see progress on other heavily traveled roads in Cabell County, the widening project along I-64 between Merritt’s Creek and the Huntington Mall.

WSAZ even took drivers’ concerns about safety in the construction zone to DOH, where officials increased patrols and signage throughout the area.

“We have four seasons, topography and the rivers and the rain. It’s very difficult and very expensive. I can build a road in Kansas a lot cheaper than I can here, but I’ll have a road in Kansas,” said Jimmy Wriston, the Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

To pay for these projects, the state’s gas tax went up 3.5 cents per gallon in 2017. The governor also promised once voters passed the road bond measure, it would put road repairs and infrastructure on the fast track and create 48,000 jobs.

WSAZ found through our investigation that the DOT does not track the number of jobs fulfilled through Roads to Prosperity.

“We don’t really track the number of instate or outstate jobs,” Wriston said.

Wriston went on to explain the total number of jobs Justice promised wasn’t exact -- saying its rather an example of how West Virginia could thrive based on another state’s study on the total impact of transportation investments.

“He didn’t promise 48,000 jobs. What he did was reference a North Carolina study that showed you this amount of investment in infrastructure would deliver that amount of jobs. There are different studies and different data on how that would work,” Wriston said. “But in fairness, who cares if it’s 48,000, 42,000, or 60,000. It’s still jobs for West Virginians.”

Road projects are bound to hit delays, but with Justice’s second term set to expire in 2025, there’s also no guarantee that roads will be prioritized in the next administration.

“I will promise you this. I’m going to continue to work in every way I possibly can. When I leave office, I’m going to hand a golden key over to whomever it may be. If they drop the ball, shame on them. But I have absolutely delivered, and I’m going to continue to deliver,” Justice said.

West Virginia is one of four states in the country that maintains both state and county roads. In 2019, Justice shifted the focus of Roads to Prosperity to improve secondary roads by prioritizing potholes and paving.

As of June 2021, nearly 72,000 miles of roadway have been completed.

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