By: Lydia Crawley
The Parsons Advocate
The West Virginia Department of Highways hosted an informational open house. As part of the open house, Tucker County Commissioners and members of the public were able to address their concerns and questions to representative of the DOH. Tucker County Commission, Presdent, Mike Rosenau addressed the DOH regarding a variety of issues including ground water flooding in Hendricks and large commercial vehicles on secondary roads within the county.
“There’s been a lot of years trying to get the surface water out of Hendricks,” Rosenau said. “We even discussed it when we were in Charleston…They still got water that is running down into, washing out the roadways in the heavy rain. When the state took it over, the way we understood it, we inherited this, we didn’t know, but the town of Hendricks couldn’t be here today because their mayor is working, but I wanted to make sure that you’re still aware of that issue they have up there. It’s on a hill so it comes down and funnels down to right here at the water plant…We’ve heard all types of things. I just know on my level, that it’s really a concern for the residents that live there and the water office. The state has taken over those roads.”
Deputy State Highway Engineer Joe Pack responded to Rosenau’s concerns. “There’s always money available for whatever is our big priority and the best use of that money,” Pack said. “Our Annual Plan money, the way we look at it, that’s for the routine maintenance of the roadways, which is patching, cleaning of ditch lines, mowing the shoulders and stabilizing gravel roads and then during snow and ice season. That is what we consider annual planning and core maintenance, routine maintenance, whatever you might want to call it. That’s our everyday bread and butter, that’s how we pay our bills.”
Pack continued by explaining the other funds that the state utilizes for more severe repairs. “We have a whole ‘nother program wof what we call internally by three different things,” Pack said. “Nonfederal Aid, which is state funded projects. We also call it our ABC and the reason we call it ABC is because every program starts with one of those letters. Like if it’s paving its A-13, if its walls and slip repairs, its B, if its C, its bridges. It’s just some internal acronyms. We all know how we do that so we sound smart to y’all. The thing is when District 8 gets 5.4 million or 4.9, I can’t remember, about 5 million dollars, ok, and that money that is distributed is based on the road mileage in each district. It is proportionate. Everything we do in the state, we try to do proportionally. And then after its divided proportionally like that, what we end up doing is Tommy and Adam and Laura have to sit down and say ok, what are our top priorities. If they decide that they are going to spend $5 million on upgrading the drainage in Hendricks, that’s fine. But when they call me and say, ‘Joe, were out of money. We cannot put a pipe in anywhere else in the district.’ I will say, well I don’t have a money problem, I have a manager problem because you all should think about this. About how you could stage it or maybe do it a different way. So, when somebody in the past may have said well, we just don’t have the money. There was once upon a time at the Division of Highways that the first floor of building 5 in Charleston told District 8, you will do this amount of tar and chip work in your district. Well, that’s ludicrous because then we’re setting rules for all 10 districts and all 10 districts have different challenges and situations. So, what we do now is we say, ‘Here’s your $5 million, your portion of state funded projects. You do what you think is the most effective use of that money.’ So, in the past someone may have said there is no money for it because there was someone who really wasn’t in touch with what’s going on out here making those types of decisions, but we’ve taken that away. And as I tell everybody, the good and the bad of that is Tommy, Adam, Laura, our county supervisors, they get to do it. They get to use that money as they see fit, but they can’t blame Charleston anymore… So, Tommy and Adam, they will assess the situation, if they haven’t already, they will come up with a proper fix, a cost estimate, and then they may have to sometimes weigh it.”
Pack also discussed the finances of the Department of Highways further. “There is never going to come a day under Secretary Wriston in the way that he does things that he says there’s no money available,” Pack said. “Now, there is an end of the money. Lynn here may say, that’s a great idea, but I don’t think you need to spend $5 million just in Hendricks, Joe There’s a lot of needs in Pocahontas County and in Tucker County. We do try to balance it…They’ll follow up with you. They can have these conversations and tell you why. If they tell you there’s no money, I just told everyone here, we have money to do things, we just don’t have money to do an endless amount of all of our challenges every day.”
Rosenau replied to Pack’s explanation by saying that communication is key on these issues. “Here would be a good thing,” Rosenau said. “If we had somebody come and say, ‘You know, you’re on the list. We have several other areas that need done. Maybe we can get them this year and get this next year.’ That would be at least, we would see a light at the end of the tunnel.” Rosenau mentioned the influx of additional federal money for infrastructure in the district. “I know with the additional federal funds coming in now. And a lot of that is geared towards infrastructure,” Rosenau said. “Surface water is one of those things that fall under infrastructure, from what we’ve investigated.”
Pack explained that the federal money comes with many stipulations on usage. “One thing that comes with federal money is they never show up and say here’s $630 million, call us when you’re out of money,” Pack said. “No, they tell us. When they added $109.5 million per year to our program, they said specifically two things to us. Number 1, it has to be for bridges and number 2, it cannot be for new bridges. It has to be for replacement, maintenance, and rehab of existing bridges. So, the federal government, just like all of us, I mean, I always tell my two grown sons if they come asking me for money, I get to ask what it’s for…but the truth is all of that money that we talked about, they go into pockets. There’s $45 million that was listed up there for electric vehicles. Well, that is specifically to build charging stations. We can’t use that anywhere else and if we don’t use it, we just don’t get the money. Same thing with the bridge program. That extra 109 million, if we don’t spend that on bridges, we can’t use it for paving, we can’t use it for drainage or anything else. That money comes with a ball and chain that we have to then execute.”
The execution of the federal plan, Pack explained, is a matter of the state spending the money and then being reimbursed by the federal government later. “Of course everything we do with the federal government is reimbursing,” Pack said. “They don’t send us money. We spend the money up front out of our state funding and then when we’ve checked every box and done everything proper, they reimburse us the money.”
Rosenau also brought up the ongoing issue of large commercial vehicles on Tucker County secondary roads. “Let me ask you this one, too,” Rosenau said. “When we were in Charleston, we discussed the trucks on our secondary roads. “We discussed at that time about possibly working on their GPSes on the state level to get the roads in Tucker County that has the trucks getting stuck all the time removed from that. Has there been any progress on that?”
Pack expressed that the state and the county were on the same page in regards to the need for the large trucks to be off secondary roads, but also explained the problems and difficulties in dealing with the various GPS provider companies. “Oh, absolutely. We reach out to all these mapping companies consistently through our IT Department,” Pack said. “And we give them information and we tell them, you can go to our site, wv.transportation.gov, you can go in there and look and it will have our road system on there with the proper names and proper route numbers on them. And Google and these other companies don’t give any changes or any feedback to us. We reach out.”
Pack discussed the nature of GPS in our modern society and our dependence on it. “Part of this is, as someone who travels all around the state and I use my phone,” Pack said. “I plug it in, it pops right up a little screen, I type in where I’m going. There was somewhere yesterday they showed a picture of someone who drove into a pond because the phone said make a right and they said, well, I’m making a right. I hope I don’t ever end up falling into that. I’ve also ended up driving on places that when I get there, Tommy will say, ‘well, Joe, don’t do that next time. Get off at this next exit and come down’ because I will complain about how I got here. Part of the issue we run into is people, they become, and I’m one of them, my old boss used to tell me, ‘Turn that phone off when you’re driving, Joe. Just drive. You’ll learn more about where you’re going and how to get back home.’ But I tell him that I’m usually going to be 30 seconds late to every meeting I go to, that’s going to make me 30 minutes late cause I’m guessing how to get there.”
Pack said that language issues with many drivers adds to the problem. “But the truth of the matter is a lot of these operators, especially for these trucks, they’re not even native US Citizens. So, our road signs we put up, the message boards we put up, they can’t read it. They stop and they say, I’ve literally have them stop and say, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ And I say, the sign says exit next right and he can’t read English. That’s a part of the problem. I don’t know what software they’re using; I don’t know what their phones are. We do reach out to these companies; however, we can’t control it and all of our roads are public roads and there’s only a few instances where we actually prohibit certain type of vehicles from using our roads and its usually just because the bridges can’t hold their weight…We cannot prohibit any vehicles from using our roads. We can only recommend.”
Rosenau brought up the state and county’s efforts to place new and updated signage to the area. “I appreciate your help, we really do in Tucker County, we appreciate everything you’re doing for us,” Rosenau said. “They’re working on at the state level, some new signage. We had signs put up, but you have to go through the whole process to get a sign put up. Hopefully with the new signs that they’re working on now at the state level, maybe that’ll deter some of them. Like a big old truck with an X through a truck or whatever that they won’t have to read English.” Rosenau said that many trucks get into dangerous situations on secondary roads in the county. “We have the kids riding those backroads on the busses,” Rosenau said. “We’re just trying to deter an accident that may involve some serious injuries or death.”
Pack admitted that when Corridor H is completed, it will help the issue, but never fully eliminate it.
“It will help, but it won’t make it go away,” Pack said.