Transportation Secretary Byrd White told legislators Tuesday there have been “misconceptions” among the public and some news outlets over what projects are to be funded under Gov. Jim Justice’s “Roads to Prosperity” road-building initiative.
Justice went around the state promoting the Oct. 7, 2017, referendum to authorize the sale of up to $1.6 billion in general obligation bonds. White, who was not in state government at that time, said Tuesday the original project list was color-coded by funding source: general obligation bonds; federally funded GARVEE bonds; or Parkways Authority bonds.
He said the list also included a number of “candidate” projects — those the Division of Highways recognizes as needed but currently have no funding — which appeared on the list without a color code.
“At the time, they were not funded and not promised,” White said. “They were simply candidate projects.”
White said seven of nine projects to be funded from the original $800 million in Roads to Prosperity bonds, sold in May 2018, have been bid out, with contracts totaling $428 million.
Two other projects, an Interstate 70 bridge project in Wheeling that came in nearly $100 million over original estimates and had to be redesigned, and the St. Albans Interstate 64 bridge project, are to go out to bid in August and October, he said, at a total estimated cost of $380 million.
White said he was not surprised that bids on the Wheeling project came in over estimates.
“Those bridges are in terrible shape, and getting worse all the time,” he said.
He said nine additional projects will be funded through the next round of bond sales, totaling $600 million, and receiving the go-ahead from the Legislature through a concurrent resolution approved Monday.
White said Highways also is gearing up efforts on secondary-road maintenance, including committing $35 million of 2018-19 budget surplus, which the Legislature moved to the state Road Fund, toward repairing slides around the state.
He said that, since Justice directed Highways to put greater emphasis on secondary roads, the division has paved 982 lane miles, repaired 193 slips, graveled 2,800 miles of unpaved roads and patched 7,000 miles of roads.
Also during Tuesday’s legislative interim meetings, a legislative audit found that the Division of Highways has not complied with annual reporting requirements under a 2003 law creating the Coal Resource Transportation System.
That law allows coal haulers to purchase permits to operate overweight trucks on 2,200 miles of designated highways, predominately in Southern West Virginia.
West Virginia Public Service Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lane told legislators the program has been a success, raising nearly $39 million in fees for repairs and maintenance of coal highways, and that it has actually reduced gross weights of coal trucks operating in those counties.
“From our standpoint, and from a public-safety standpoint, this has been a very successful program,” she told the Post-Audits Committee.
Under the law, shippers and receivers have to submit real-time electronic reports to the PSC, identifying trucks by permit numbers and reporting gross vehicle weight. Lane said the PSC uses that data to place enforcement officers on busy or “problematic” routes.
The law also requires the Division of Highways to submit annual reports on the CRTS. However, the audit found those reports are lacking much of the information the legislation stipulates, including failing to report on current conditions of coal-haul routes, and any planned or needed repairs and maintenance to those roads.
“We can supply the information as requested, but I would tell you I think it would be worthless,” White told the committee.
He said the information required in the report does not provide any insight into the effects of coal haulers on road conditions, which he said would require a road-by-road analysis.