West Virginia’s Division of Highways is now zeroed in on routine road maintenance. That’s not very exciting, especially when motorists are fuming over the potholes, slips and broken pavement.
What we would all like to see is miles and miles of fresh black asphalt on the roads we travel every day. However, the maintenance work must come first, and for good reason.
Over the years, the DOH has fallen way behind in many parts of the state on core maintenance such as ditch clearing, brush cutting and culvert repairs. Funding, manpower and equipment shortages along with crews being reassigned to road slips and slides meant the work that is supposed to be done on a regular basis often just did not get done.
Two months ago, Governor Justice instructed his Highways team—Transportation Secretary Byrd White and Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston—to get back to the basics, and that’s exactly what they are doing.
It’s a huge job. West Virginia has 35,000 miles of state owned and maintained roads. “We’ve got a long way to go,” Wriston told me recently on Talkline. “We have to be realistic and understand that we have years to catch up on, but we’re making progress. We’ve got the right mindset.”
Every Wednesday, the DOH posts a progress report on its website. Here are some of the latest figures on maintenance completed between March 16 and May 19:
Shoulder or ditch clearing of paved roads—25,726 shoulder miles*. Patching and related maintenance—64,653 tons (of asphalt). Clearing of culverts and ditch lines—612,000 feet. Ditching and blading of unpaved roads—4,004 miles. There are more stats and you can read them here.
DOH also promises to soon have an interactive road map on the website so the public can better track maintenance and paving.
Without the routine maintenance, much of the road repair work done in recent years has been a constant and frustrating losing battle. Without proper drainage, water pooled on the roads and quickly undermined new patching and paving.
Wriston hopes doing it right the first time will lead to roads holding up longer. “Once we get caught up we can get back to a routine core maintenance plan,” he said, “then we will see great improvement and start focusing on bigger things.”
We have been beating the drum for several years now about improving the state’s roads. The #FTDR (Fix the Damn Roads) campaign helped focus attention on the public’s demand that state government fulfill one of its primary obligations of providing a well-maintained system of roads.
The Governor’s redirect of priorities toward long-delayed maintenance is encouraging. Granted, the site of a grader clearing a ditch while potholes deepen may add to our frustration in the short term, but hopefully doing the job right will mean better roads in the long run.
*(A shoulder mile is a mile on one side of the road.)