The passage of the "Roads To Prosperity" road bond ballot issue was one of the proudest moments of Governor Justice's administration. At the time the Governor's office released an ambitious list of projects that would be completed if the road bond passed.
It's one of the few things that people on both sides of the aisle in WV can agree on. We have a problem with roads. Potholes and crumbling pavement can be found both in cities like Charleston and Huntington as well as the more rural roads reaching all 55 counties. As far back as 2015 local talk radio host Hoppy Kercheval began using the popular catchphrase "Fix the Damn Roads," then going viral with the hashtag #FTDR. With the passage of the road bond West Virginians were hoping to see a statewide effort to, as Kercheval says, "fix the damn roads."
Today's Charleston Gazette Mail put that program's results in doubt however. It seems this wish list of road projects is going to be a bit more expensive than Governor Justice had expected.
Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said Monday that runaway inflation in highway construction costs has the department concerned as West Virginia embarks on the $2.8 billion “Roads to Prosperity” initiative.
“Those are concerning numbers when you have things escalating that far,” Smith said of reports of an 8.8 percent inflation rate for construction costs.
Those costs might have been reflected last week when bids for the first big-ticket Roads to Prosperity project, reconstruction of 7 miles of Interstate 70 in Wheeling, including 22 bridges, came in more than $100 million over the original estimated project cost of $172.5 million.
During a news conference Monday, Smith said the scope of the project had been expanded since the list of Roads to Prosperity projects was published last September, and that bids had been expected to come in above the estimate.
“We’re looking at those bids to determine how we feel about them face-to-face with these rapidly changing market conditions,” he said. “We know we have to get that work done, and we will find a way to get it done.”
Smith cited several factors for rising construction costs, including higher prices for asphalt and tariffs on imported steel imposed by President Donald Trump.
On the plus side, he said interest rates on the $1.2 billion in road bonds sold to date have come in lower than expected, effectively providing more money to the state.
Earlier Monday, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, sent a letter to Gov. Jim Justice raising concern that the high bids on the I-77 project might be the start of a trend and questioning whether the Justice administration had deliberately underestimated project costs to make it appear that more projects would be funded before last October’s vote on the road bond referendum.
“If this trend continues, this will greatly limit the number of projects that can be completed with funding through the Roads to Prosperity program,” Miley wrote.