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CBS Radio News

W.Va.'s Courtesy Patrol On The Chopping Block


West Virginia’s Courtesy Patrol will be no more if a bill currently being considered in the state House of Delegates gets final approval from the Legislature and the signature of Governor Jim Justice.

Members of the House Committee on Roads and Transportation this afternoon approved the bill eliminating Courtesy Patrol programs run by both the state Division of Highways and West Virginia Parkways Authority.

The bill passed on a voice vote, with the recommendation that it also be considered by the House Finance Committee.

“This is one of those items that we just consider to be outside the role of government,” said House Roads and Transportation Committee Chairman Marty Gearheart (R-Mercer, 27), the lead sponsor of the bill.

Some delegates on the committee spoke up in favor of the Courtesy Patrol.

Delegate Ed Evans, a Democrat who represents McDowell County, where the Courtesy Patrol has its headquarters, said the program takes more than 3 million calls a year to provide services like removing animal carcasses from the road or helping people change their tires.

“I know everything comes down to funding,” Evans said. “How much do we put on the human life?”

He cited figures showing the Courtesy Patrol has performed CPR 9 times along West Virginia roadsides.

Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said he and his wife saw 11 vehicles in need of help on their way to Charleston today.

“I know we have extremely tough times,” Boggs said, but he said the service costs little compared to the services it provides.

Others on the committee said private companies like local towing companies or AAA could provide much of the help the Courtesy Patrol provides.

“These people would get help and private companies would get the work,” said Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral. “I think it’s time to look at the budget realities.”

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, added, “I don’t think this is a wise use of the taxpayers dollars.”

Currently, the DOH has a Courtesy Patrol contract with the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia, a nonprofit organization based in Beckley, that runs through May 31.

As written, Gearheart’s bill would (1) terminate the Courtesy Patrol program, (2) abolish the Courtesy Patrol Fund and (3) transfer any balances remaining in the Courtesy Patrol Fund to the State Road Fund.

Additionally, the proposed bill prohibits the West Virginia Parkways Authority from operating a Courtesy Patrol.

The change could save the state as much as $5 million annually.

Up until 2015 when it was shifted to the DOH, the Courtesy Patrol had been funded through the state Division of Tourism.

“A lot of people have an anecdotal story (about) how they have been helpful and I don’t question the fact that they have been helpful but, for the most part, they don’t really provide the service to you. They simply come and give a little aid and comfort,” Gearheart said.

The Courtesy Patrol operates from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.

Workers provide free roadside assistance to stranded drivers, remove hazards from roads, give gas or directions, change flat tires and provide other help to motorists.

Those driving the familiar white trucks are transitioning off government assistance.

“I have nothing against those people that are doing that job,” Gearheart said. “It just simply is not a program that we can afford.”

The Courtesy Patrol has been on West Virginia’s roads since 1998 when cell
phones were not as ubiquitous.

Times have changed, Gearheart argued, and most drivers can call for tow trucks or other assistance on their own.

“We know times are tough here in West Virginia, so all we can do is continue to help people on the highways and create jobs and keep moving forward,” Jennifer Douglas, chief operating officer for the Citizens Conservation Corps.

The 2017 Regular Legislative Session continues through Saturday, April 8.

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