Editorials, Opinion

DOH fails first test of winter

North-central West Virginia — Morgantown, in particular — ground to a halt yesterday as the last traces of Monday’s flurries mixed with below-freezing temperatures and early-morning snow squalls to hide a sheet of ice beneath a white dusting. Wrecks backed up the interstates and main thoroughfares; cars got stuck on inclines; vehicles spun and slid into ditches and medians; schools closed and adults got halfway to work before being forced to turnaround (though some had no choice but to power through). All in all, not a good day to be on the roads.

To say that the Division of Highways dropped the ball would be an understatement.

We don’t want to disparage the individual workers — the ones who do the essential work of plowing the roads and loading up the salt and distributing it along the streets — because we know they’ve done the best they can.

This is obviously an institutional failure — one that starts at the highest levels and snowballs (pun intended) down the chain of command.

Perhaps the turn in the weather was unexpected and caught everyone off guard — but that didn’t stop our neighbors to the north from clearing their roads.

Multiple people who commute to Morgantown from Pennsylvania said it was all smooth sailing for them right up until the moment they hit the West Virginia state line. Then, all the sudden, the clean roads disappeared and flowing traffic came to a near standstill. The Pennsylvania side of Interstate 79 was clear as a bell and travelers had no problem. The West Virginia side of Interstate 79 was coated in ice and still dusted with snow after 9 a.m., and it took some motorists an hour or more to travel the five miles from the border to Morgantown.

The I-79 corridor immediately north and south of the state line experienced virtually identical weather conditions, and yet only one side had clear roads. That tells us the problem in Morgantown wasn’t the weather — it was a lack of preparedness and action on the part of the West Virginia DOH.

If it had mobilized its fleet immediately after the squall came through between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., the roads could have at least been passable by morning rush hour. Instead, it waited until after there had already been numerous wrecks and accidents that snarled traffic so badly the salt trucks weren’t able to get around.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-time failure. We consistently see the same lackadaisical approach to north-central West Virginia’s roads year-round, from the potholes that are never filled to the brush that is never trimmed to the snow that is never cleared. These can’t be blamed on the weather when Pennsylvania roads and communities less than 10 miles north experience the same weather conditions but only a fraction of the road problems.

The Division of Highways — from the highest offices in Charleston down to the regional managers — must do better.