CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has all the road repairs it can handle.
“There’s almost 15,000 tasks that they sent in that they need done,” Byrd White, the state’s newly-appointed transportation secretary, said Tuesday morning on WJLS in Beckley.
He was referring to lists submitted from all 10 of West Virginia’s highways districts. The Department of Transportation released the lists to the public on Monday evening.
The lists were submitted in all kinds of formats but together tell a story of high-priority paving, patching, culvert repair, slip repair and ditching. Mile after mile of West Virginia highway is represented.
The lists also reveal the equipment and workforce that local highways managers consider necessary to get the job done aggressively.
Basic tasks like ditching and preparation will be the first priorities over the next few weeks, White said.
“The first priority is the ditching and mowing and getting things cleaned up and getting them ready to pave,” White said.
“In April, we’ll start paving roads. But first we’ve got to get them ready. There’s no point in paving a road that hasn’t been drained and the potholes haven’t been cleaned up.”
Making sure West Virginia’s roads drain properly is also top priority, White said. He said that’s crucial to avoiding slips.
“You’ve got to have a good base, and you’ve got to have good drainage,” he said. “We’re concentrating on getting our ditches clean and getting the water off the road.”
The lists that were submitted by district engineers and county supervisors show widespread needs.
For example, the diagnosis for U.S. 19 in Harrison County is “multiple slip, major potholes, ditching, canopy, guardrail damage, needs paved or overlay, culvert replacement.”
And that’s just the top of the list for Harrison County.
Other road needs seem more basic.
Along U.S. 219 Marlinton to Elk Mountain in Pocahontas County, for instance, “some spot ditching needs performed.”
On W.Va. 20 from milepost 14.60 to 15.60 through Hinton in Summers County, “Pavement needs milled and patched, with future consideration for a paving project.”
If you can imagine similar statements for 15,000 stretches of road, you get the picture.
There were also lists of equipment and employees viewed as necessary to get all those jobs done.
For example, the North Charleston part of District 1 in Kanawha County says it has a lot of needs to do the work aggressively:
“16 more employees, water truck, wood chipper, two message boards, a bucket truck, one tandem, two single axles, a broom tractor, a paving machine, a berming machine, a gradall excavator, a backhoe and a crew cab.”
In Clay County, the necessary additional resources were similar:
“Single- and tandem-axle trucks, excavator, paving machine like LeeBoy, bucket truck for cutting limbs, we need to speed up the process for posting and hiring. We will need extra crew cabs to haul people; we have summer help coming soon and not enough vehicles to haul them to job sites.”
Some highways officials wrote narratives describing their needs and proposed strategies.
Gordy Hardy from Summers County wrote that efforts should get back to basics.
“I would like to see our organization move away from extensive paving and focus more on what our employees and equipment are best suited for, which is routine maintenance consisting of ditching, berming, pothole patching, pipe installation, grading gravel roads, mowing and brush cutting,” Hardy wrote.
“I personally feel that, even if we add employees and equipment to perform paving and surface treatment activities, our core maintenance activities will suffer.”
Michael Aronhalt, a Putnam County highway administrator, wrote that more equipment and personnel are necessary.
“It is my opinion that to aggressively tackle the issues we are facing in our county a larger quota of employees is needed,” he wrote. “I feel that to achieve a larger staff there needs to be a quicker hiring process. I have found that many times, we have lost potential workers due to the length of time from applying to the hiring process is complete.”
When and how will West Virginia see results?
Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper, a guest on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” said this is the first step toward improvement. He suggested the submissions now need to be ranked in priority.
“You’re gonna see progress because people aren’t letting up on this,” Carper said.
Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, agreed the roads needs are tremendous.
“It’s hard to glean through ‘em and get much from it except for one thing, and that’s that we have a lot of problems,” Blair said on “Talkline.”
“A lot of these problems were already known in advance, for that matter, and it’s just a matter of getting out to take care of them.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) March 26, 2019
White said the highways department already had priority lists of road repairs, but now will compare that to what was submitted by local officials.
“We had already done a priority list in house that looked at number of people on the road, what the volume was on the road, its condition and how long it had been since it had been fixed,” he said.
“We’re meshing that as we speak comparing it to the lists the counties sent in with the list we already had arranged.”
Then, he said, leaders will need to determine how much money is needed.
“We haven’t put any dollar costs with these tasks yet. We’re working on that,” he said. “We’re going to put every dime we can into maintenance, into getting our roads into better shape before we do anything else.”
Gov. Jim Justice asked for the lists last week when he called a statewide meeting of district engineers and county supervisors. Next, he said, would be figuring out the cost and drumming up the money.
A couple of weeks ago, the governor described gathering $240 million or so to shore up local roads through three sources: diverting some from the $915 million in bond money West Virginia has already drawn down for “Roads to Prosperity” projects, using some “pay-as-you-go” revenue that had been intended to pay down future road bond debt and applying portion of state general revenue surplus.
The finances, he said last week, would be the responsibility of Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy.
“We’ll lean on Secretary Hardy and say ‘This is our task at hand, this is what we need to be able to do the task at hand, these are the dollars that we have and this is what we can do,'” Justice told the local highways officials.