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‘Jim’s Promise’ aims to boost to economy

By LEAH NESTOR

Times West Virginian

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va.  — Gov. Jim Justice and Transportation Secretary Tom Smith are relying on bonds being passed in October to maintain “Jim’s Promise.”

Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith (left) introduces Gov. Jim Justice at the Division of Highways in Bridgeport.
(Photo by Leah Nestor)

Jim’s Promise is the governor’s program for creating new jobs and securing economic stability by remedying infrastructure issues. According to the press release, the road projects will make good on the governor’s promise to fix state roads and bring tens of thousands of jobs to West Virginia.

To do so, Smith said that a $230 million Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, or federal bond, will be the single biggest one-day issuance of transportation bonds in the state, which will occur Oct. 27. And in October 2018, a bond issuance of $600-800 million will surpass that. Justice said that the passage of these bonds is crucial to the state’s future.

“If a road bond is rejected— and this sounds dramatic— in all honesty, you just turn out the lights,” Justice said. “Our hope and everything is over.”

Justice refers to his project as the key to Emerald City, and said the rejection of the bonds is not even comprehensible to him.

Justice also took questions and heard concerns about the means of implementing the project from the crowd of DOH employees.

“Bring me the problems,” Justice said. “Give me an opportunity to push the buttons.”

District 4 training coordinator Judy Vanpelt said that for the entire state of West Virginia there are three trainers.

“With these new jobs that are going to be coming in, we’re going to be hiring new equipment operators, which are going to require training,” she told Justice.

In response, Justice said, “For crying out loud, here we are fueling up the jets and ready to take off on an aerial attack, and our pilots don’t have any idea how to fly the plane!”

He turned to Smith and said, “Whatever we got to do to fix it, fix it.”

Division of Highways district engineer Don Williams mentioned a need for more human resources employees.

“We’re working with the means we have, but there are some avenues we need some help on,” he said. “We just don’t have the workforce; we’re struggling with that.”

Later in an interview, Williams said that the concerns voiced were reality, but regardless, he said, “We’re going to make it happen.”

“Our job is about to get challenging to put the program out, but I think this has the effect to make the biggest difference in the history of the highway department.”

Smith mentioned that their goal is to get 500 new employees through the DOH in two months. Williams said they need a lot of truck drivers, engineers and technicians. People can apply on the DOH website.

Smith said he and Justice found ways to move up work that was planned for other years.

“In the first three months of this program starting right now we’ve leveraged $350 million of (roadway work) that would not have gotten started this year without the governor’s program,” he said.

West Virginia Department of Transportation director Brent Walker said the department tries to be as comprehensive as it can.

“It will touch every 55 counties in the state, and certainly, central West Virginia will have its share as well,” he explained. “We’re rolling this out in waves. This program is large. And so you’ll start to see some of the smaller projects. Then, as we get through this, you’ll see continue projects.”

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