MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown area leaders are reacting in the aftermath of a brief snowstorm that paralyzed the area Tuesday.
Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said the lack of response by the state Division of Highways is very concerning and unsafe for the community.
“It was actually 44 car accidents, 16 motorist assists, 13 roads closed, not including I-79 and I-68 at times, over 75 cars in ditches, and one-quarter inch of snow,” Bloom said at Wednesday’s Monongalia County Commission meeting.
The commission met with the DOH about eight weeks ago to express concerns about staffing levels and the approaching winter weather, increasing their frustration. Bloom said local agencies will meet to develop a local response plan that will include the DOH in the future.
“We cannot have this one-quarter inch; we cannot have schools not running; we cannot have cities not being able to operate; and businesses not being able to run,” Bloom said.
DOH District 4 Engineer Mike Daly confirmed Wednesday the DOH is more than 80 workers short in the district and the lack of drivers is an issue.
State Senator Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, said if the legislature won’t pass locality pay, new compensation has to be developed to serve places like Monongalia County that are not comparable to other areas of the state.
“We need some type of additional incentive or something or we need to privatize some functions of the (DOH),” Oliverio said during an appearance on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.”
Oliverio said it’s time to take their concerns to the governor’s office. He has told the governor the situation has to be addressed, or possibly a local state of emergency could be declared.
“The governor’s chief of staff assured me this morning they are monitoring the situation and are looking for new innovative solutions,” Oliverio said. “I think our voice has been heard, and now we’ll stay after them to try to come up with some resolution.”
Oliverio questioned state Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston last month about staffing levels, maintenance in right-of-way areas, and general cleanup. Oliverio noted DOH District 4 is down to 22 employees from 55 when he left the legislature in 2011 and proposed a public-private partnership that could address the problems in exchange for the budget amount the DOH had to do the work.
Wriston told Oliverio that the DOH is now a more efficient “data-driven organization that has a plan and works it, but if a lawmaker calls with a problem, if we can work it in, we’re going to run to the fire every time.”
“I challenge that premise. With 22 today, I can do the work of 55 from 10 years ago; there’s no question about that,” Wriston said. “If you don’t see the efficiencies in this organization, you’re just not paying attention.”
“These statements they’re giving me just don’t add up—we can’t get the roads maintained,” Oliverio said. “I’ve stressed to them that we can’t even get the medians maintained; we have weeds growing out of the medians in June, July, and August.”