June 9, 1998
A new transportation bill signed by President Clinton includes 1800 highway projects. Critics say the money set aside for these projects is wasteful spending. Kwame Holman has the story on one of these projects.
KWAME HOLMAN: The new six year, $200 billion highway bill includes some 1800 specific projects members of Congress selected themselves. Critics say the $9 billion setaside for those projects amount to nothing more than wasteful pork barrel spending. But West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall, for one, disagrees.
REP. NICK RAHALL, (D) West Virginia: We're there every weekend. We're on the front lines of our districts. We know the needs of people in pockets of our district that perhaps a governor or state legislature might not fully be able to see.
KWAME HOLMAN: Giving members the opportunity to hand pick projects for their district is the way House Transportation Chairman Bud Shuster chose to write a small portion of this highway bill, the most expensive ever. Critics charged Shuster offered the project in order to get votes for his bill, while members got something to take home to their constituents.
TOM SCHATZ, Citizens Against Government Waste: It's to get their name on a particular project. It's to get credit for bringing home the bacon, for--
KWAME HOLMAN: Tom Schatz is president of the budget watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.
TOM SCHATZ: These are very local projects that have very little national significance and are put there because the members of Congress on the committee are able to do so, or the chairman is able to convince other members to vote for the bill in exchange for the projects.
KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, Oklahoma Republican Steve Largent, a critic of the heavy highway bill spending, said he was offered money for a project in his home district but refused it.
REP. STEVE LARGENT, (R) Oklahoma: Our office was approached and offered $15 million for projects in Tulsa, and I told them my vote was not for sale. They were not-it was not an offer for specific projects. It was just $15 million dangling, cash, for projects for the First Congressional district.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nick Rahall is the top Democrat on the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, which had to give initial approval to the long list of projects members selected. Rahall, himself, returned home to West Virginia with one of the biggest highway projects of them all, $50 million to begin work on 12 miles of road between the towns of Logan and Man in his Southern West Virginia district.
KWAME HOLMAN: Is this what constituent service is all about?
REP. NICK RAHALL: Yes. I would say this is not something I just picked out of the air and decided is what is good for the people in my district. This is a voice of the people in this area being heard as well. It is grassroots politics.
KWAME HOLMAN: Logan, West Virginia has a population of 2100. The town of Man, at the southern end of the proposed 12-mile project, has 900 people. In-between are a half dozen smaller communities that seldom show up on a map. They're all connected by Route 10, a winding, two-lane road built around the turn of the century on the only space left after the coal-carrying railroad was built on the valley floor. So Route 10 runs along and often 200 feet above Gyandotte River on one side and sheer rocky cliffs on the other. Road signs prepare motorists for the problems ahead, and anyone leaving the town of Man is given fair warning.
DAVE CLEVENGER, West Virginia Department of Transportation: Some of the areas, as you see behind me, there's a railroad crossing, there's some bad curves, deficient curves.
KWAME HOLMAN: Just outside Logan we talked with Dave Clevenger, an engineer with the West Virginia Department of Transportation. It wasn't long before we saw firsthand how precarious driving Route 10 can be. KWAME HOLMAN: Whoa-now, that's some serious negotiation that driver has to do, right?
DAVE CLEVENGER: Wait till you see down on the other end.
KWAME HOLMAN: And so we rode to the other end with Logan County Deputy Sheriff David Lee Belcher. Counting his 13 years with the state police, Belcher has controlled Route 10 for nearly 20 years.
DAVID LEE BELCHER, Deputy Sheriff, Logan County: There's not very many minor accidents on that stretch of road. Normally when you get a call on an accident, it's a pretty bad accident.
KWAME HOLMAN: Belcher says in the last three years there have been more than 200 accidents along the stretch of Route 10, causing almost as many injuries. Three people have died.
DAVID LEE BELCHER: You can see the rocks hanging on your left side here, and these rocks in this type of weather where we had a lot of rain--you just never know when that tree right there is going to come off the edge of that rock cliff, or a rock is going to fall down on this road. And when a rock falls down on this road, we don't have any reaction time. Our drivers just don't have any place to go to. And this area here, you can see where the guardrail's been installed, if you look right over to your right, if you look how far down it is, we're probably talking 200 feet straight down the mountain.
KWAME HOLMAN: Very narrow.
DAVID LEE BELCHER: It's extremely narrow. It's extremely dangerous, because we have school buses that travel this road daily, as you just encountered the large truck that we just met through this particular area. There's just no place for anyone to go, when they have two vehicles meet in that particular section of highway.
KWAME HOLMAN: And there's another danger along Route 10 that's hidden from drivers almost until it reaches them. There are four railroad crossings along this stretch of Route 10. All of them provide signal and bell warnings but none is equipped with a crossing barrier. Robert Grimmett owns a small produce stand that sits along a narrow strip of land separating the railroad tracks from Route 10. He and customer Clyde Jude agree Route 10 needs to be replaced.
CLYDE JUDE: It's just following in to the railroad track down up there-it's bad-really bad.
KWAME HOLMAN: And both men say tax revenues that flow to Washington from the coal mined in these mountains over the years should more than compensate for the new road.
ROBERT GRIMMETT: They're still running the coal. Where's all the taxes going to? They're still running the coal. They ain't puttin' it back on the road.
CLYDE JUDE: Sending it to these other counties, building other roads and four lanes in other places, what a politician can get backwards and forwards to their job, that's--
KWAME HOLMAN: So you feel like you paid your dues? And maybe you deserve--
CLYDE JUDE: We've been shafted. That's definite.
ROBERT GRIMMETT: Shorted, I believe.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was in the town of Man, at the southern end of the 12-mile stretch, that a community-wide movement was launched last September to replace old Route 10 with a new four-lane highway. A town meeting drew 2300 people to the high school gymnasium, a crowd nearly three times the town's population.
THOMAS ESPOSITO, Mayor of Logan: The city of Logan supports the completion of the Man to Logan Route 10 southern road.
KWAME HOLMAN: Effort to replace Route 10 has built momentum ever since.
REV. BERNARD COOKE, Route 10 Organizer: This is the American way-a small town, a small group of people getting concerned about their community, raising up as one voice.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rev. Bernard, pastor of Man's Church of God, and social worker Mike Pollard the local organizers of the Route 10 effort. They say a new road would give life to an area that's grown economically depressed and seen many of its young people move away as a result.
MIKE POLLARD, Route 10 Organizer: We don't want our kids to have to think that they've got to leave out of Logan County and West Virginia, go to the city to get a good job, drive good roads. We don't want to feel like we're second-class citizens the rest of our life.
REV. BERNARD COOKE: People in this area have been suppressed. Coal mining families years ago were almost in slavery to these coal companies. And it's kind of like they've been suppressed all these years. And now we just-we just come together and stood up, and we want to be heard.
KWAME HOLMAN: And they were heard in Washington by their Congressman, Nick Rahall.
REP. NICK RAHALL: They have been able to at the grassroots level transfer their desire for a highway and have their voices heard in our nation's capital, and I am their spokesperson.
KWAME HOLMAN: Budget watchdog Tom Schatz says he sympathizes with the people who drive Route 10, but he insists it's a local problem.
TOM SCHATZ: It's one thing to say we need the money to do this. It's another thing to say we also want to get money from the taxpayers in California, Texas, New York, and Michigan to fund our local little project, because that's really what you're talking about.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the $50million written into the highway bill for Route 10 will only begin to do the job. West Virginia Transportation Engineer Dave Clevenger says each of the designs being considered to replace Route 10 will cost more than $300 million to complete.
DAVE CLEVENGER: The reason we're looking at such a high cost per mile in this area is because of the terrain. We're having to hang the roadway pretty much, more or less, on the hillside. We deal with a lot of mountaintops, a lot of valleys. We're also going to have a number of bridges.
KWAME HOLMAN: Most of that additional money also will come from the federal government, allocated over the next several years. The money will be taken out of West Virginia's share of federal gas tax revenues. In the meantime, residents of Logan and Man and the people who live in-between are upbeat, believing their grassroots lobbying efforts have paid off.
MIKE POLLARD: We're going to get that road-Route 10-and our kids are going to feel like, hey, mom and daddy did something to better our future, because we feel like that we're on-driving on a two-lane road, old, decrepit, falling down-
REV. BERNARD COOKE: Goat path.
MIKE POLLARD: Going into a four-lane century.