Editor’s Note: For more information about how the DOH funds counties and plans for 2018 work, see this weekend’s The Dominion Post.
CLARKSBURG — State Division of Highways leaders sat down with county commissioners and delegates from District 4 Tuesday to talk money and maintenance.
Such a meeting is unprecedented in their experience, several elected officials said. “It’s like a breath of fresh air,” said Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker. “It seems like the good old boys’ club is done.”
“We know that we’re behind because of the lack of investment over many years in infrastructure,” Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said. “Gov. Justice has finally given us an alternative to that, so we’re eager to be out and about and to try and make a difference in the roads.”
“It’s important to be able to look people in the eye and tell them what you’re going to do and then to actually do it,” Tom Smith said.
On Tuesday he, Assistant Commissioner Jill Newman, State Highway Engineer Aaron Gillispie and District 4 officials met with all six counties in District 4. They talked about how much money each county will receive in the coming year and how that funding is determined.
“It’s a zero sum balance,” Gillispie said, there is no leftover pot of money sitting in Charleston.
The group also explained some planned projects and made some promises to the Mon and Preston representatives.
District 4 Engineer Don Williams said the agency is working with WVU on a new salt shed on 705, “which we think will revolutionize our maintenance activity,” by getting salt to crews more quickly.
It is also considering the possibility of a satellite office in Mon County to oversee the multitude of projects planned there.
And the DOH is considering a demonstration project on Patteson Drive for pedestrian traffic.
Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said it would be nice to know what is done about complaints elected officials pass on to the DOH. Williams said his office receives 20-30 complaints daily from Mon County.
“We try to prioritize,” Williams said, noting if people don’t like his answer, they often go to the next person. He said District 4 is interviewing for a citizen request coordinator, to help track requests, and working on a better tracking system.
Preston Commissioner Craig Jennings praised the DOH for its snow removal but pressed the representatives about road maintenance. Jennings said there, “is no doubt,” that Preston County’s roads are worse than others in District 4 and offered to drive them around.
“Every county here today said they had the worse roads,” Gillispie said. Bring them to us, Jennings said. “I don’t know what we need to do. Maybe it’s more funds. I guess we’re asking you guys help us go to [legislators] and tell them as bad as it is,” Jennings said.
He suggested changing the formula for how funds are divided among counties.
Williams pledged to come to Preston County in July and work on a multi-year plan.
“I think we can come up with a long-term plan working with the resources we have and then if more resources become available accelerate the plan,” Williams said.
He also said that a second speed study has been done on W.Va. 7 near the Kingwood Walmart, and the speed limit there will be lowered from 55 to 45 mph. However, there still isn’t enough line of sight for an entrance desired by a developer, he said. However, the developer has submitted a proposal for a right in, right out only entrance.
And Preston County DOH crews are doing “skip” pavement on sections of W.Va. 92 and 26, which were two of the roads county commissioners most criticized.
Tom Smith promised that a plan is being developed on how $6.6 million in road bond money originally planned to replace the little-used Bull Run Truss Bridge and Rockville Truss Bridge will be spent instead.
Mon Commissioners Tom Bloom and Ed Hawkins said they were pleased with the meeting.
“We, the commissioners, are thrilled with the relationship we have,” with Williams and the DOH, Bloom said.
Hawkins said he is “very happy with the progress we have been making.” When he came on the commission, its relationship with the DOH was not good, Hawkins said, but that is being remedied.