By OWEN WALSH
WAYNE COUNTY, PA — If you’re one of the 1,460 members of the Facebook page Wayne County Roads-Citizens Holding PennDOT Accountable, then you’ve probably seen a lot of pictures of potholes, stories about people damaging vehicles on their daily commutes due to poor road conditions, and a general lack of confidence in PennDOT’s work.
According to the nonprofit group Transportation for America, PA ranked in the top 10 “states with the worst roads,” with 30 percent of its major public roads classified as “in poor condition” in 2017. Similar lists regarding states’ infrastructure problems have come out since, PA often nearing the top spot for having the most problems.
Pennsylvanians complaining about the roads on Facebook is nothing new, but Ron Huber, creator and administrator of the new Facebook page, is looking to channel that disillusionment into actual results. After just a couple weeks, more than a thousand have joined, and Huber has helped spur a town hall with the public, representatives Jonathan Fritz and Michael Peifer, Sen. Lisa Baker, Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith and PennDOT representatives Rich Roman and James May. The town hall will take place on December 19 at the Damascus School.
Huber, who never expected so many people to join the page, said the whole thing started out of “frustration.” He lives near the Oregon Turnpike, which was badly damaged after several rainy seasons to the point that he had to drive on the wrong side of the road to get to his home. Huber called Peifer’s office to complain, not expecting to hear back from the representative. Peifer did in fact call back and talked through some of the reasons that road improvements in PA can move at such glacial speeds.
“That kind of made me madder, because it’s ridiculous how it works,” Huber said.
Peifer also told him that Oregon Turnpike was on PennDOT’s list of roads to be completely repaved, which “pacified” Huber for some time, until after a few months went by with no changes. Huber eventually learned that Oregon Turnpike had been removed from the repaving list, and instead got a patch-job that still left a number of potholes untouched.
At the end of his rope, Huber turned to Facebook, knowing what a powerful rallying tool it could be.
“Facebook sucks for the most part, but you can reach a lot of people,” he said, now acting as a moderator among the page’s users who update the page several times a day.
While griping about PennDOT is at the heart of the page, Huber is trying to keep the posts productive and positive. He and the other page administrators Sally Hunt and Donna Lind DuBois will remove any members who are clearly just using the page to spread negativity. Huber has also made it clear that the page is not about berating PennDOT workers, because he believes the problems is nearer the top of the bureaucratic chain of command. The other day, Huber “issued a challenge” to users to wave to PennDOT workers, bring them a cup of coffee or “tell them we’ve got their back.”
“It’s not [the workers’] fault. The problem is systemic,” he said.
Huber and a few friends, which he refers to as his “cabinet,” will spend the next few weeks preparing a presentation for the December 19 town hall, which they’re hoping will draw a big public turnout.
“If a third of the people on that page actually come, we’ll fill that auditorium,” Huber said, adding that the public will demand real answers from PennDOT and not accept any lip service.
“We’re not doing anything wrong, we’re not hurting anybody, we’re just asking that we get something we’ve already paid for.”