Editorials, Opinion

As long as the road work gets done …

State Sen. Mike Oliverio’s office announced the Division of Highways would be getting help from private contractors to help take care of ditching so DOH workers could focus on core maintenance — and a hallelujah chorus rang through the hills of north-central West Virginia.

We are not unsympathetic to the DOH, especially here in District 4. We know it has struggled to hire enough staff to take care of the never-ending work. And we understand how demoralizing it must be to constantly be the source of the community’s ire. We appreciate every filled pothole, repaved road, trimmed median and clean shoulder. We know there is more work to be done than there are people and days to do it.

But we hope the DOH understands our frustrations — as taxpayers and road users — when we see a marked difference in the quality of our roads vs. those just above us in Pennsylvania and below us closer to Charleston. Our roads see exponentially more use than others, and we send far more in road-related tax dollars to Charleston than we receive back in completed road work. Unfortunately, legislators have repeatedly killed a funding formula that would take road use into account and prevent heavily trafficked areas, like Mon County, from being constantly shortchanged.

We’ve been advocating for months now that the DOH outsource some of its work so it can actually get done. Granted, we were talking specifically about road repairs and letting municipalities take care of it, but this could help, too. If ditching is enough of a burden on the DOH that contracting it out should free up time and labor for other maintenance tasks, then yes, please, let’s do that.

However, we think there are some other basic tasks the DOH could also relinquish to private contractors, like mowing medians and cleaning up litter or debris. Because while those are important to the overall health of our road systems, they are minor in comparison to having drivable roads. Many of us would happily trade the aesthetics of a well-groomed shoulder for roads that don’t swallow tires whole or don’t ripple like they were paved over a million mole hills.

We understand that the DOH has a maintenance schedule it is obligated to keep. That means ditching and mowing certain areas within a certain time frame. Which is part of why we wish it would delegate more of that work to contractors. That would allow the maintenance work to be completed on schedule while freeing up DOH resources for addressing emergencies — like the mudslide that closed down a portion of River Road — and prioritizing road repairs — like the tire eating pothole on Chaplain Hill Road between the two Interstate 79 on-ramps.

We hope that someday the DOH will be adequately staffed so that contractors won’t be needed at all, but until that day comes, private-public partnerships like this one will be necessary to ensure the work gets done.