W. Va. — West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) District 4 Engineer Donny Williams said he arrived at June 13’s meeting of the North Central Caucus on Roads prepared to do one thing — “and that’s speak very honestly with you.”
He didn’t disappoint.
The bottom line, Williams explained, is that based on his calculations the annual maintenance budget for the six-county District 4 would need to be more than doubled from the current $30 million-$32 million in order to maintain the 4,800 miles of roads in the district to the levels prescribed in the DOH’s own core maintenance plans.
He broke maintenance down into four categories — mowing, pothole patching, ditching and gravel-based system, which makes up the roads ranked lowest on the state’s priorities list.
According to the DOH’s standards laid out in its 2010 core maintenance plan:
- All asphalt based roads should have their potholes paved on a yearly cycle.
- Every primary route is to be mowed three times a year — less for smaller routes down to a minimum of once annually.
- Every road within a county is to be ditched once every three years.
- Gravel roads should be addressed once every three years. Williams explained that he added this fourth category as it’s not provided for in the maintenance plan.
It was noted that the list doesn’t mention slides, of which there are dozens either affecting or threatening roads in Monongalia County alone.
“That’s the core plan. That’s what was established years ago to look at how we would maintain things,” Williams said. “Now who in this room, if we were to do that, would say we’re doing a good job? Does anybody in this room think we’re even coming close to doing that? No. We’re not, and there are a lot of reasons.”
One of those reasons is manpower. Even if the money were ready and waiting, it does little good if there are not enough people to do the work due to non-competitive pay rates.
“How many of you would shovel hot asphalt all day for $13 an hour?” Williams asked, explaining that a number of his employees qualify for and utilize social services to survive.
He said truck drivers start with the state at $11.77/hour. The average pay is $13.94 for experienced workers, compared to $28.81 for similar work with a contractor.
At the end of the day, Williams said, people don’t care about staffing numbers, road priority lists or vehicle counts if the gravel road they live on is impassable. Even so, limited resources mandate the majority of time and money is spent addressing the busiest roads as they are the top priority.
“We’re pretty good at putting resources on priority one, but it takes everything we’ve got to do it,” Williams said, later adding, “It’s like you have a leak in your bathtub dripping every day and a four-foot hole in your roof. Which do you fix first? You fix the roof. Why? It can do a lot more damage.”
For all those reasons and many more, Preston County Commission President Craig Jennings said the caucus needs to do what it can to give Williams a hand by sending a unified group of representatives to Charleston.
Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom agreed, explaining the issue isn’t partisan, but regional. He went on to note that a third of the state’s senators come out of the district.
“The point being, Donny, we appreciate it. We needed something. We needed a number to work with. … If we’re getting
$32 million, we need roughly $36 more million,” Bloom said. “It is not Democrat, it’s not Republican. This is a north-central issue that we have to address. We’ve got to get Harrison County on board because like I said, we have one-third of the senators. … And we need to know how we’re going to get this funding.”
About two dozen county commissioners, state elected officials and political hopefuls gathered in the Marion County Election Headquarters along with a similar number of residents for the meeting — the third of its kind in recent months.
As has been the case up to this point, Harrison County was not represented. Representatives from Doddridge County were unable to attend.
The next meeting was tentatively set for Aug. 15. Jennings said he planned to ask Harrison County if it could host the meeting.