CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WDTV/WSAZ) -- UPDATE 3/13/19
Days after announcing the firing of Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Commissioner of Highways Tom Smith, Governor Justice has appointed Byrd White to lead the DOT.
Byrd has served as a Raleigh County Commissioner and was appointed by Justice last year to lead a tax state enforcement division.
The announcement was made during a press conference Wednesday morning.
During the press conference, Justice also announced a plan to "significantly accelerate" secondary road projects.
Roads slipping off hillsides, potholes as large as tires, 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.
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 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."
When asked if this project was the wedge that led to the governor parting ways with former DOT Secretary Tom Smith, Justice said the two have different philosophies.
"We can't keep spinning the wheels," said Justice. However, he complimented Smith on a personal level, "Good man -- did a good job -- a guy I really, really respect and think the world of."
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."
ORIGINAL STORY 3/10/19
Governor Jim Justice announced Sunday that he fired Tom Smith, Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Commissioner of Highways.
His termination coming nearly 2 weeks after he brought a crew to assess road conditions in Preston County.
“I want a new direction to be taken with our Dept. of Transportation, a return to the core mission of maintaining the quality of our secondary roads and bridges,” Justice said. "I sincerely appreciate the service Tom has given to the State of West Virginia."
The county has been under a state of emergency since last year due to the road conditions.
The news came as a shock to the Preston County Commissioners, but they're hopeful about moving forward.
District 4 Engineer, Darby Clayton says the plan will still go on, even without Smith's leadership.
"His instruction, from whomever gave him instruction, was that they continue on with the efforts that were already set in motion," said Samantha Stone, a Preston County Commissioner.
DOH trucks and crews were in several areas of the county Monday, including Route 7. Clayton told commissioners they must start from the ground up.
"He said that they would be doing the ditching and cutting back a lot of the stuff that hangs over the roadways. They would be flushing culverts and replacing the culverts that were crushed," said Stone.
Since many projects were neglected for decades, it's almost like starting from scratch. However, the future of Preston County's 1,200 miles of roadways, seems to be heading in the right direction.
"We can't spend a lot of energy on what hasn't happened over the last 10 or 20 years. I think our mission right now is to look ahead," said Dave Price, President of the Preston County Commission.
"I'm excited, moving forward, to see what the Governor is going to do, who's going to replace Tom smith and where the funding and the manpower is going to come from," said Stone.
The Preston County Commission says they will have an update on the roads each week at their commission meetings.
The Governor announced Friday that he scheduled a Wednesday press conference to unveil the state's plan to address secondary roads throughout West Virginia.
“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,” Justice said in a Friday news release. "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.”