Several Monongalia County Delegates and Senators attended a round-table at the local Department of Highways (DOH) office with Secretary of Transportation Maddox and regional highways officials at the end of April. Although there is no easy fix for the road problems, local officials plan continued meetings through the summer to monitor progress on road conditions.
“We were pleased to obtain lists of upcoming paving projects for 2015,” said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D- Monongalia. “Since the paving projects amount to a local investment of $8,016,852,we are hoping that once these projects are underway, there will be some noticeable results. We are all well aware of the horrible condition of roads in our county.”
The two lists provided by the DOH, which are attached to this release, include paving projects, and tar and chip projects. Seventeen roads are included on the list of paving projects, covering 26.11 miles. Seven roads are scheduled to have double applications of tar and chip.
Local Legislators will be meeting with Highway officials again the last week of May and hope to meet monthly during the summer to get updates on the progress of various projects. “Working with the DOH to communicate a repair and paving plan in the short term and a comprehensive strategy for roads in the long term is of utmost importance to me,” said Delegate Brian Kurcaba, R-Monongalia.
Secretary Maddox identified the main issue blocking progress - insufficient funds from both the federal and state government. Twenty percent lower funding from the federal government has been exacerbated by the elimination of earmarks he said. By the newer formula, West Virginia has lost out on $100 million in yearly earmarks that used to be obtained by Senator Byrd, he explained. Maddox said that there would need to be a doubling of funding to return the state to a 12 year paving schedule. Until new money is placed into the road fund, he said things will only get worse.
The Secretary told Legislators he welcomed the upcoming audit of the Department of Highways that will occur as a result of the passage of HB 2008 this past session. Monongalia County legislators said they hope that the audit bill will yield constructive suggestions.
In addition, Monongalia County legislators plan to resubmit legislation that would allow counties to raise funds that would be used on roads at the local level. “We were disappointed that we were unable to pass a bill to allow our county to invest in local road projects,” said Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, “but we are regrouping and plan to lobby for more local authority next session.”
Like virtually all state agencies, no new funds were placed into the budget for the DOH during the past session because of the budget crisis. Until that happens, the Highway Department will pursue several alternative avenues for addressing road conditions, including pavement preservation, tightening of private contracts requirements and specifications, changing of the culture within the department, and a new apprenticeship program that will allow for increased salaries.
Pavement preservation is a technique being used in other states that has been piloted with some success in one of the DOH regions and is planned to be adopted state-wide. Instead of milling and removing an inch and a half of paving, which is very expensive, if potholes are carefully carved out and rolled, it has been demonstrated that applying a thinner level of asphalt can be used to extend the life of a paving job by up to seven years. The roads targeted for pavement preservation are typically 3-5 years old and only beginning to show signs of distress. Under a second scenario, a road could be properly patched, then a thin overlay applied. In both cases, the ride quality is enhanced at a lower cost than traditional mill/fill projects.
Since March, Monongalia DOH County crews have been working their way through a list of 28 roads which have been targeted for priority pothole attention. However, resolving FEMA slide projects from heavy spring rains is being addressed by the same forces that will be used for patching, ditching and mowing, according to District Engineer Ray Urse. At present, although there is authority to hire 40 employees to work out of the Monongalia County office, there are only 26, which includes clerical staff. Moreover, because of resignations, medical leave and worker’s compensation, there are typically only 12-16 workers who can be assigned to core maintenance issues.
Department officials said that it takes weeks to get new persons on-board because of state personnel rules, and that the delay results in prospective employees taking other jobs. Legislators at the meeting said they would be willing to work with the Personnel Division and introduce legislation to expedite the hiring process.