CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) — West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced a plan Wednesday to "significantly accelerate" secondary road projects. He also named an interim transportation secretary.
Roads slipping off hillsides, potholes as large as tires, mudslides, and rough terrain are all things you might encounter while driving on West Virginia’s secondary roads.
"I promise you I'm going to fix the damn roads, and that's all there is to it," Justice said at the press conference at the Capitol Wednesday.
Just how bad are many of West Virginia’s rural roads? WHSV's sister statiom, WSAZ recently, took a ride with Logan County residents to get a firsthand look.
Both repairs and maintenance are included in the plan. In a statement released last Friday, Gov. Justice said that secondary roads are the state Department of Transportation's number one priority.
Officials could not give an estimated dollar amount for how much the repairs and maintenance will cost, but Justice gave a very rough estimate.
"We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars," the governor said.
Justice said there are several different "buckets" they can take money from.
He says the state will need to staff hundreds of people and buy equipment to get the jobs done.
A reporter asked if taxes would be raised to pay for this project and the governor replied, "Not on my watch."
The governor also named Byrd White, a CPA, as the acting secretary of the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
"He knows numbers and knows business," said Justice. "He knows how to manage from the standpoint of being a COO or a CEO. He surely knows people and has the ability to know when he's getting the wool pulled over his eyes."
A few days earlier, the governor fired Tom Smith from the position that oversees the state's transportation and highways.
Justice said Wednesday the state needs to re-focus the highway department.
"I want to first say, Tom Smith's a good man," said Justice. "Good man — did a good job — a guy I really, really respect and think the world of."
When asked if this project was the wedge that led to the governor parting ways with Smith, Justice said the two have different philosophies.
"Tom has been in the federal government for a long time and he's attuned to doing big projects," said Justice. "We do have a different philosophy and we just can't keep spinning the wheels. We got to go another way."
In a press release ahead of the announcement, Justice stated, "There is no doubt the Department of Transportation is doing great work on our Roads to Prosperity projects, but our secondary roads aren't being addressed with the urgency needed. This is the issue that we will address with this plan, and secondary roads will be the #1 priority of the department. These roads have been neglected for nearly two decades, and that's not going to continue on my watch. The people of West Virginia deserve well-maintained roads."