2017-10-04 / Front Page

Gov. Justice urges Morgan County voters to back road bond in Oct. 7 election

Says payroll, road spending will boost entire state economy
Kate Shunney

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, Transportation Secretary Tom Smith and industry advocates made their case for the road bond amendment to a full reception room at The Country Inn in Berkeley Springs this afternoon, as part of a multi-stop sweep of the Eastern Panhandle ahead of the October 7 special election.

Before Justice arrived from a stop in Moorefield, State Senator Charles Trump introduced a number of construction, coal, engineering and business leaders who outlined how the $1.6 billion road bond initiative -- called Roads to Prosperity -- would benefit their industries.

All said they would hire additional workers -- many of them West Virginians who have left the state for jobs elsewhere or are furloughed from coal mining -- in order to tackle more than 600 road projects that could be funded with bond revenue.

Mike Clowser, director of the Contractor's Association of West Virginia, told a crowd of nearly 100 local people that passing the road bond amendment would "create thousands and thousands of jobs."

"When construction workers are working, they buy cars and homes," he said.

"We cannot have future jobs for West Virginians without safe roads," said Clowser.

Dale Lee with the West Virginia Education Association also spoke in favor of the bond referendum, saying better roads will be safer for school buses.

Transportation Secretary Tom Smith called Justice's road bond plan a way to gain "immediate economic recovery" for West Virginia.

Justice, who said he was delayed in arriving in Berkeley Springs by traffic congestion, thanked the roomful of residents for coming.

"You wouldn't be here if you didn't care," he said.

The governor said without road revenue, the state would be forced to cut Medicaid, school funding and funds for the Department of Health and Human Resources.

He said a $500 million state budget deficit will make it impossible to fund significant road improvements, even despite an increase in DMV fees, gas tax and sales tax on autos. Justice said the two options are "immediate jobs or cuts." Passing the road bond, he argued, would immediately create jobs, boost income tax collections and the state's economy in general.

Without the road bond funding, state roadways and bridges will remain as they are, Justice said.

"Take a real good look at the road you've got. It'll be like that until the day you die," he said.

During the hour-long event, Justice even tackled the issue of why he switched parties. He was elected as a Democrat but changed his affiliation to Republican in August. The governor blamed what he called an inability of Democratic legislators to back his budget plan in Charleston.

"Another component to switching," Justice said, was that he is "really, really, really close friends with Donald Trump." The governor said President Trump can "genuinely help West Virginia."

"I believe my relationship with him can help West Virginia in a big way," he said.

The governor also asked those gathered to take a moment of silence in memory of 59 Americans killed by a gunman in Las Vegas on Sunday night, and more than 500 people who were wounded.

Several local people spoke in favor of the bond amendment. Jeff Thatcher of Berkeley Springs said he supported the move to upgrade infrastructure. Peggy Miller said she thought the revenue from road spending would make it possible for the state to pay teachers more. Jim Hoyt asked how federal funding fit into state road spending. Secretary Smith said the state often makes a 10 or 20 percent match to federal highway funds for projects.

Two students from Berkeley Springs High School asked how the road bond would affect the state's growth. Justice said the state needs revenue from road spending to boost other programs like education.

Others asked if road projects would be done by in-state contractors, and what a Berkeley Springs bypass would look like, specifically.

Transportation Secretary Tom Smith tells Morgan County citizens about roadway and bridge projects that could be funded by a road bond.Transportation Secretary Tom Smith tells Morgan County citizens about roadway and bridge projects that could be funded by a road bond.Smith said the U.S. 522 bypass has been partially planned, and it would make sense for a southern portion of the bypass -- from Winchester Grade Road toward Martinsburg Road -- to tie into a northern connector road from U.S. 522 to Fairview Drive near War Memorial Hospital. Smith said engineering still has to be done on a large number of road projects on the governor's list of bond-related projects.

Early voting on the bond amendment continues through Wednesday, October 4 at the Morgan County Courthouse. Local voters will cast their ballots at precinct polling places on Saturday, October 7 from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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Roads Commissioner Tom Smith

Roads Commissioner Tom Smith said the bond would bring jobs immediately then he said engineering still has to be done on a large number of road projects on the governor's list of bond-related projects. So...not immediately and not planned. This is why I voted NO.

So. How many of "the 600 road

So. How many of "the 600 road projects" will actually be in Morgan County? How many of the "road jobs" will be in Morgan County? What happens to all the new hires when the road projects are finished?