CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s new Secretary of Transportation is wasting no time getting to the heart of the matter. Speaking on MetroNews “Talkline” days after he was named to the job, Byrd White said the work to repair West Virginia’s secondary roads is underway.

Will Price/West Virginia Legislative Photography

Byrd White

“Last week we cleaned and fixed shoulders on about 565 miles. We put down over 2,500 tons of asphalt in patching and fixing potholes and preparing those for pavement,” said White. “This week, we’ve started paving.”

The same goes for the new Division of Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston.

“We’re going to get these roads repaired with ditching and drainage and do some mowing,” said Wriston. “Then as soon as the asphalt plans get open, we’re going to pave them.”

It’s the kind of progress Governor Jim Justice indicated he wanted to see. It’s also the kind of progress West Virginia motorists are demanding on the roads in front of their home. Thousands of miles of country roads are broken, split, cracked, washed out, or a minefield of potholes.

“Governor Justice brought in the people who actually do the work. That’s never happened before.” Wriston said. “I was in the room there too and we all heard it loud and clear. There’s no miscommunication, only clear direction.”

White’s office is compiling the lists issued last week by District Highway Engineers and County Highway Maintenance Supervisors. The list, is substantial.

“We’ve got about $90 Million dollars of paving that did not get done last year,” White said. “The maintenance is done, the ditches are clean, and that paving will start right now.”

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Jimmy Wriston

But there are bigger issues White knows he’ll have to face. One is equipment. The lists provided by county level officials indicated widespread needs for heavy equipment to do the work. Some indicated their machinery spends more time in the repair shop than on the road. The costs are hefty.

“Some of it’s not even available yet,” White explained. “The grade-all’s we’re preparing orders for are not sitting on a lot somewhere, we’ve got to order them.”

Therefore, equipment needs will take time and costs will be an issue. But finding people to run the machines is an equally big problem. White said increasing the pay will be one way to attract and keep workers, but he admitted it would be hard to do in those areas where the natural gas industry is booming. White said the state would be unable to compete with the money CDL drivers can make working for drilling outfits.

Governor Justice promised West Virginians would see an “avalanche of work” starting soon. White told MetroNews he couldn’t put a timeline on completion of the projects.

“I tell people, it’s like eating an elephant,” White said. “The way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time. That’s how we’re going to attack this, one piece at a time.”