On the opening day of the year's busiest travel season, the director of West Virginia Courtesy Patrol urged Gov. Joe Manchin and lawmakers Monday to reinstate around-the-clock roadside assistance service throughout the state.
During a news conference, director Jennifer J. Douglas pointed to an August telephone poll conducted by a marketing firm and paid for by a private donation that showed more than 75 percent of the 150 licensed West Virginia drivers surveyed supported the idea of restoring the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Lawmakers eliminated the patrol's day shift in 2005, citing high gas costs and other budget needs at the state Division of Highways.
When it went from a 24-hour-a-day operation to 16 hours, the patrol's annual budget was cut by $967,000, Douglas said.
Manchin spokesman Matt Turner said nothing has changed in the past four years that would prompt the governor to push for additional funding.
"To keep costs reasonable, those were the most useful times to have the patrols," he said of the late afternoon and overnight hours. "We're glad they're out there on the road at that time."
The public-private partnership that operates along eight interstates and five corridors in 30 counties draws support from the state Division of Tourism, the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Division of Highways.
Operated by the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia, the program draws its workers from a pool of former welfare recipients, helping them to make the transition from a welfare check to a regular pay check.
"Many know us as the friendly fleet of roving white trucks enhancing safety and rendering aid to disabled motorists," Douglas said. "But for many the West Virginia Courtesy Patrol represents a new lease on life, and we need to do everything to ensure these opportunities remain available to those in need."
Since its inception in November 1998, the Courtesy Patrol has assisted 230,396 motorists and logged nearly 57 million miles, Douglas said. It also has provided jobs to nearly 2,000 people receiving public assistance.
"We're calling upon the leadership of this state to make further investments in this program as an investment in West Virginia's future," she said.