Poll: West Virginia road repairs have a long way to go

Published: Sep. 11, 2019 at 12:16 PM EDT
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West Virginians are still not satisfied with their roads,

from our media partner, WV MetroNews.

The latest version of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll examines attitudes toward roads, providing numbers to reflect what residents might normally express as complaints.

“At this point in time, most are not seeing the progress that they expected,” said pollster Rex Repass, president of Research America Inc., which conducts the West Virginia Poll.

The West Virginia Poll asked respondents about their level of satisfaction with the roads in their community.

Two-thirds expressed some level of dissatisfaction.

Thirty-three percent said they are somewhat dissatisfied, and 42 percent said they are very dissatisfied.

On the other side, only 3 percent say they are very satisfied and 13 percent say they are somewhat satisfied. The remaining 9 percent are somewhere in the middle.

Repass noted that expectations were raised for road improvements two years ago with Gov. Jim Justice’s push for the Roads to Prosperity bond package.

“We all know that road building and road improvement in West Virginia is challenging,” Repass said. “However, at this point in time, members of the voting public are not satisfied with what they’re seeing in their primary and secondary roads.

“There was an expectation that there would be significant improvement with the passage of the road bond.”

Repass said those who tend to view West Virginia’s economic performance favorably also tend to see progress on the roads.

“To me, it’s that tie in with good roads and economic development,” Repass said.

The West Virginia Poll was conducted between August 14-22 with a sample of 501 registered voters. The overall confidence interval for the survey is +/- 4.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

The numbers reflect what Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, hears in the community she represents. Summers has been active with the North Central West Virginia Roads Caucus.

“Those results do not surprise me at all. I feel like that’s pretty reflective of my area,” said Summers, who is the House majority leader, speaking in a telephone interview.

“What the public is gonna have to do and what the Legislature is gonna have to do is to be ever vigilant to keep the pressure on the executive branch and the highways department. We have to hold their feet to the fire.”

The Legislature earlier this year approved additional funding for highways equipment. Summers said state highways officials should continue to communicate any needs to continue improving state roads.

“I’m sure there are other problems they have that they need to address as well, and I’m thinking that is going to be with staffing,” she said. “They need to bring these problems to us with solutions so we can keep this momentum going.”

Governor Jim Justice has made an emphasis of road work this summer, touting the investment in highways equipment.

A few weeks ago, the Governor’s Office touted an annual report by Reason Foundation showing that West Virginia ranks 16th in the nation in overall cost effectiveness and condition.

“This ranking affirms all the hard work we’ve done, and that we continue to do, fixing our state’s roads while also improving several of our major highways through my Roads to Prosperity program,” Justice stated.

The Justice administration has placed Transportation Secretary Byrd White and Deputy Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston in charge of the roads improvement effort. They were named to those roles in March after the firing of Transportation Secretary Tom Smith.

“For the past five months, we have been joined at the hip; working together to accomplish our number one goal of fixing our state’s road system,” White and Wriston said last week in a joint statement about how they share duties.

“The result has been one of, if not the single most productive year of road maintenance in the history of the Division of Highways.”

The West Virginia Poll shows residents still aren’t satisfied, though.

In another question, most say little to nothing has been done about their community’s secondary roads.

The question asked people to express their perception of work on primary roads and secondary roads. “In your opinion,” they were asked, “how much of an improvement has this program had in your community?”

On primary roads, 38 percent said “some” and 35 percent said “very little.”

On secondary roads, 37 percent said “very little” and 32 percent said “nothing at all.”

“The secondary roads, we haven’t even made a dent in the work that needs to be completed, in my opinion,” said Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall.

Marshall County declared a state of emergency a few months ago over road conditions. Zukoff and others describe slips that present danger on school bus routes and patches that are quickly undone by traffic.

Residents are seeing increased activity to address the roads, Zukoff said, but much work remains.

“You can see it’s progress, but we have a long way to go,” she said.