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Transportation secretary cites challenges of supply chain, equipment and personnel

Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston expects a great summer of West Virginia roadwork, but he told legislators that supply chain issues, shortages of some equipment and personnel challenges will increase the difficulty.

Wriston spoke Sunday evening before an interim meeting of the Oversight Commission on the Department of Transportation Accountability.

“We’re looking at we’re looking at another banner year I think if certain things fall into place over the next few months,” Wriston told lawmakers. “I think everyone will be stunned just how much paving we’ll get done.”

He said an emphasis over the past few years on core maintenance has laid the groundwork for success.

“So a lot of those roads are ready to be resurfaced, are ready now to be repaved.”

But, he said other factors have arisen that will make that more difficult.

“It’s going to be a struggle. The struggle will be in the supply chain issues. The struggle will be in equipment issues and workforce issues that we’re seeing across the country. If we can make progress in those areas, we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”

Wriston emphasized the supply chain complications in the early part of his presentation to lawmakers.

“We are definitely feeling the impacts of supply chain issues, the availability of products, our own maintenance staff and our equipment — we’re having difficulty receiving materials, we’re having difficulty finding materials and the costs are definitely going up.”

He said inflation has meant an increase in costs of 20 percent for the transportation construction industry.

Although a historic level of federal infrastructure transportation funding is available, “We are certainly going to see a lot of that funding get eaten up through inflation.”

The supply chain issues have made it more difficult to get necessary equipment, he added. “It’s just not available.” Wriston described efforts by the equipment division “scouring the country and the world” for trucks. “It’s about trucks, trucks, trucks,” he said. “If I have trucks, I can do anything.”

Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia, spoke before legislators and agreed that the supply chain complications are affecting road work. He described an “unprecedented and unforeseen rapid change in material prices over the last year” to affect contractors.

“And as such that is affecting a lot of our members, it’s affecting their bottom lines, it’s affecting their profitability,” he said, going on to also describe “unprecedented delays in supply dates.”

He said supplies like generators, guardrails and steel have taken significantly longer than usual to obtain.

“That not only affects the ability to do the projects at the prices we’ve been historically at,” he said, “but it certainly affects the completion date.”