HUNTINGTON — Two years ago during a special election, West Virginia voters gave their stamp of approval to a program Gov. Jim Justice called “Roads to Prosperity.”
Since then, 541 projects worth $385.1 million spanning 1,185 miles have been completed, according to the West Virginia Department of Transportation, with 293 projects scheduled to be completed by the end of the year and 123 projects scheduled to break ground. That brings the total to $1.1 billion worth of projects either completed or started by the end of 2019.
“It’s likely that everyone who lives in West Virginia, or anyone who has driven through, has benefited from at least one road that has been upgraded through the Roads to Prosperity program,” Justice said in a news release. “This program has made life better in every county and in every part of our great state, all with no additional taxes.”
In Cabell County, 15 projects have been completed to date, worth approximately $67.2 million. Projects include the repaving of Interstate 64 from Milton to Putnam County, paving of W.Va. 2 from Millersport to Green Bottom, Russell Creek Bridge repairs and a slide on W.Va. 10.
On deck for next year is the widening of I-64 from Merritt’s Creek to just past the Huntington Mall exits. The $71.7 million project was awarded to Triton Construction Inc. of Nitro, West Virginia, and construction is set to begin in the summer. The project will double the width of the existing section of interstate from four lanes to eight lanes and replace five overpass bridges. Once that project is completed — projected late 2022 — work will begin on an estimated $115 million project to widen the interstate from the Guyandotte River bridge to the 29th Street exit.
There are other big projects for Cabell County, including the widening of U.S. 60 from Merritt’s Creek to West Mall Road, which is currently in the design stage, according to the DOT’s website. There are also plans for a Culloden interchange, a second Green Valley Road slip repair and Swamp Branch culvert repair.
Regionally, one large project will also begin next year. The widening of the Nitro bridge on I-64 project will be put up for bid Oct. 22, said Jimmy Wriston, deputy secretary of the DOT and commissioner of Highways.
“There’s good reason for the projects (on the interstate between Huntington and Charleston),” Wriston said. “It’s one of the most heavily traveled roadways in the state. It’s tough to put up with the congestion, but it’s really nice when it’s done.”
More projects will be added to the list as more funding becomes available. The second round of four general obligation bonds will go out for bid by the end of the year, Wriston said.
The general obligation bonds are paying for large projects, like the Nitro bridge. The GO bonds are paired with federal GARVEE bonds, which were utilized for early paving projects, like the Milton to U.S. 35 in Putnam County project.
“The bond program itself frees up other money, allowing us to move faster on other projects, and frees up money for secondary roads,” Wriston said. “It frees us up to do more on the roads that people live on.”
Following some outcry over secondary road conditions, Justice launched the Secondary Roads Maintenance Initiative in March. Since then, the Division of Highways has completed maintenance work on 18,306 miles of secondary roads.
Wriston said they have been focusing on ditching, patching, replacing old piping and addressing water drainage — things that cause the road to deteriorate.
“By taking care of drainage and getting ahead of other core maintenance projects, we can add life to that pavement,” Wriston said. “Once we add life, then we can see a return on that investment. We can stretch that pavement out eight, 12, maybe even 20 years in some cases. And because it’s lasting that much longer, it frees us up to do other projects. There is plenty of work to be done. We’re never going to run out of highway work.”
Wriston said he thinks the governor’s program has given people hope.
“We were in pretty dire straits,” he said.
Wriston said it also brought hope back to the DOH.
“Our people have a changed mindset,” he said. “They are focused. They see the importance. It’s catching all over the state. Our employees know. Their families drive on these roads. They live on these roads. They own these roads. It’s our responsibility to take care of them. We’ve rebuilt our culture here in DOH.”