Division of Highways officials unveiled 95 road projects in all 55 counties to be funded in part with $50 million of federal CARES Act pandemic relief funds, Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday.
Justice has pushed forward with plans to use a portion of the $1.25 billion of CARES Act funds received by the state for road construction projects that, according to the Highways website, are intended to “remove impediments and improve access to medical facilities and medical supply transportation routes.”
“We have checked this, and checked this, and checked this as to how we can use these funds with regard to this from the standpoint of medical emergency routes,” Justice said Monday of using CARES Act funds for road construction and maintenance.
That’s despite guidance from the U.S. Treasury strictly limiting use of the funds for capital improvements to those “necessary expenditures” directly incurred during the COVID-19 public health emergency, such as constructing temporary public health facilities to deal with patient overflow.
In July, the Governor’s Office released a legal memorandum from Charleston lawyers Ben Bailey, Brian Glasser and Jonathan Deem dated July 9 calling for the state take a “cautious” and “prudent” approach to using federal CARES Act funds for highways construction and repairs.
“[T]he risk that any certain project would be deemed a non-permissible use of CRF [Coronavirus Relief Fund] dollars should be proportionate to the degree to which the existing conditions are impeding access to care,” the lawyers stated in a memo to state Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy.
Justice’s proposal to use CARES Act funds for road construction and repair generated criticism from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., among others. In the face of criticism, Justice scaled back original plans for $100 million of roads projects.
Justice reiterated Monday that he believes federal restrictions on spending CARES Act funds will be relaxed as the pandemic goes on.
According to the Division of Highways website, five roads in Kanawha County have been designated as Medical Access Road projects, at a total cost of $2.025 million. Those roads are: Riverbend Road, Crestwood Road, Frame Road, Ashford Road and Fields Creek Road.
Statewide, the 95 projects range in cost from $15,000 to $3.7 million for Raven Rock Drive in Pleasants County.
Also during the COVID-19 briefing Monday:
n Citing an increase in COVID-19 cases in Logan, Mingo and Mercer counties tied to out-of-state travel, primarily to Myrtle Beach, Justice said he is considering mandating quarantining and testing all residents who travel out-of-state.
n Justice said he will be making a “very significant” announcement regarding the launch of the public school year at Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing. In July, Justice pushed back the starting date for public schools to Sept. 8.
n Justice said the state is moving forward with plans to set up a portion of St. Francis Hospital, in Charleston, as a surge hospital for COVID-19 patients.
The hospital will set aside 15 beds for overflow of COVID-19 patients if the current 10% daily increase in statewide hospitalizations continues. Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar, said Monday there’s no capacity issues with state hospitals at the moment.
However, Marsh said the virus is making its way into rural areas of the U.S., after a first wave hit metropolitan areas in the Northeast and West hardest.