MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Some DOH District Offices are having a hard time spending their allocated dollars.
An audit of the Division of Highways reveals that — among five core issues impacting road fixes at the local level — the inability to remain competitive with private industry is perhaps the key reason why certain districts fall behind on aspects of their road work plans.
Dr. Shree Baba Pokharel, an economist in the Joint Committee on Government and Finance in the Performance, Evaluation, and Research Division, testified this week in Charleston following the release of the 50-page audit.
“Maybe because of competition from other agencies like the federal agencies or other agencies within the state, the quota labor for fulfilling these jobs was not fulfilled,” she said. “So, because of that, the money was not able to be spent on the jobs they were supposed to do.”
DOH district offices are expected to spend 70 percent of allocated dollars on their core maintenance plan (versus 30 percent for non-core maintenance), but the audit revealed that doesn’t occur very often. Citing two districts of concern — DOH District 4 and DOH District 5 — only two counties of the 13 highlighted reached that goal at least once during the nine-year study window, 2009-2017.
Monongalia County rarely came close to hitting that threshold, spending 58.03 percent in 2009, 64.24 percent in 2010, 48.43 percent in 2011, 47.66 percent in 2012, 49.54 percent in 2013, 49.02 percent in 2014, 55.11 percent in 2015, 44.63 percent in 2016, and 50.49 percent in 2017.
In the nine years studied, only Monongalia (twice) and Preston (once) in DOH District 4 even spent more than 60 percent in a given year on core maintenance.
Though emergency weather expenditures are among the five explanations for why DOH District Offices failed to hit the 70 percent threshold so often, Dr. Pokharel said research in Monongalia County specifically found significant failings in the labor quota required to upkeep the system. Her testimony was further supplemented by DOT Secretary Tom Smith.
“The weather, the labor, and the natural gas industry are hard for us,” said Smith. “Those things are things that are hard for us and create challenges.”
Smith’s allusion to natural gas is listed in the report as the “final reason described,” suggesting there was “extended use of roads with the sudden boom of the natural gas industry and consequential truck traffic in the areas of study” in the past few years.
“The increase in truck traffic caused plausible wear and tear on the road system which might have moved resources towards non-core activities away from core activities,” the report concludes.
Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, still has his eyes on changing the overall funding formula.
“If weather really was the problem, I think we’d be using more than our 70 percent that’s allocated for our core maintenance,” he said Tuesday on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town” with Dave Wilson and Sarah Giosi. “Snow removal and ice removal is part of the core maintenance problem. I think that kind of contradicts a lot of what the Department of Highways is saying to us there.”
In Beach’s home county, local leaders were frustrated enough to form a North Central West Virginia Caucus on Roads — bringing together as many leaders from DOH District 4’s six county region to lobby them for more funding.
Beach, who has attended several meetings of the NCWV Caucus on Roads in the past year, criticized the funding formula for failing to take economic growth into account.
“I think the formula is a little bit out of date in the fact that it does not take into consideration those growth regions,” Beach said. “District 4 and District 5 are the two growth regions in the state of West Virginia. Revenues we’re receiving are pretty much flat. There’s no consideration for what’s going on in those two areas.”
Total allocation of dollars to the DOH for total maintenance from fiscal years 2009 to 2017 increased by 14.22 percent for the entire state, but not all districts received that funding equally — an issue Beach highlighted.
A quick analysis of the data in the report indicates that the Eastern Panhandle’s District 5 — encompassing Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, and Morgan counties — had the largest increase in funding at 31.95 percent for the years studied.
Only three others topped that 14.22 percent number. In order of amount, state funding to the other DOH offices for total maintenance increased over the studied span by the following percentage amounts:
- District 9 (Fayette, Greenbrier, Monroe, Nicholas, and Summers counties) by 17.25 percent
- District 2 (Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo, and Wayne counties) by 16.5 percent
- District 1 (Boone, Clay, Kanawha, Mason, and Putnam counties) by 15.11 percent
- District 10 (McDowell, Mercer, Raleigh, and Wyoming counties) by 12.94 percent
- District 8 (Pendelton, Pocahontas, Randolph, and Tucker counties) by 11.82 percent
- District 3 (Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt, and Wood counties) by 9.9 percent
- District 7 (Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Upshur, and Webster counties) by 9.44 percent
- District 4 (Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor counties) by 8.60 percent
- District 6 (Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio, Tyler, and Wetzel counties) by 8.34 percent
“If you’re on the road between Morgantown and Clarksburg, you know that the traffic is there,” Beach said. “On our feeder roads coming in towards the interstate, the traffic is there. Our cities are bogged down like crazy. We need to go back and make that a priority to consider the traffic count.”
“Hopefully,” he added, “that will also put more money back in the area.”
Representatives from Monongalia County serving in both chambers of the Legislature have expressed the need to introduce legislative fixes immediately for the 2019 session, which is officially underway.