Can $12 million fill state’s potholes? DOT hopes so

Officials with West Virginia Department of Transportation say they’re doing all they can to battle issues brought on by the onslaught of a harsh winter.

[cleeng_content id="248967664" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Now, they’re moving $12 million in funds from other projects to help fix the most glaring of the state’s current problems: potholes.

Spokeswoman Carrie Bly described this winter as exceptionally difficult for the DOT for a number of reasons.

“It’s been a horrible winter. I think everybody can agree,” she said. “It’s been difficult with the temperatures being so low.”

An overactive freeze-thaw cycle has aggravated the pothole problem this year, Bly explained.

“We’ve been going through that cycle more times than we usually do. It gets down in the 20s, then bumps up a little. Then it gets down in the 20s again. Our maintenance folks are saying this is the worst pothole season they’ve seen.”

On top of that, Bly said, those crews haven’t gotten much of a break from plowing snow and slush to begin tamping down asphalt.

“It keeps snowing,” Bly said. “The same people who treat the potholes are the same people out plowing.”

Any fixes you see in the coming days are short-term at best.

“Asphalt plants close during the winter months,” Bly said. “Typically, they don’t open until April 1. So, we don’t have access to the hot asphalt. We cold patch, then – meaning, we take cold asphalt and heat it up a little bit and press it into the potholes. That doesn’t last very long. Sometimes it lasts a week, sometimes a few days. It’s just a temporary fix.”

The spokeswoman said the DOT has requested some asphalt plants open earlier to solve that problem, at least.

But even with an obliging weather forecast and the appropriate resources and manpower available, it’s still going to cost the department a pretty penny to fix the sometimes moon-like surface of the state’s roads.

Officials with the DOT say they’re gathering up that money now.

“We took a look at some of the projects we have coming up in the spring,” Bly said.  “We asked, ‘What has to be done?’ and ‘What can wait?’ The non-emergency projects have been diverted.”

Bly said that the DOT has about $12 million extra to work with for emergency pothole repair, “which comes out to about $1 million per district.”

The money will come from transportation projects deemed low priority, she explained, declining to discuss specifics.

“We’re putting together a plan on how to most effectively use that money,” said the chief engineer of the DOT’s District 5, Lee Thorne. “We’re looking at how to further divide that money down to the counties. … We’re going to try to stretch it as far as we can, but it’s been a pretty rough winter for us.”

Thorne said the money coming from Charleston can only be used for road materials. “The counties will still have to absorb the labor costs, but we’re happy to get money for those materials, ” he said.

Thorne described the selection process for the DOT, which is responsible for maintaining 92 percent of the state’s highways, as based on getting the most bang for their buck. He said that four-lane highways will get patched first, then his department will move down the list to other high-traffic roads.

As for delays in other projects: “I know that in our district in the spring, there were two smaller paving projects – it could come from those paving project,” Thorne said. “They won’t be eliminated but they’ll just be moved out to a later date. It’s a cash-flow thing.”

Bly did confirm that, as far as local interest is concerned, the Hampshire High School traffic light project should not be affected by the jiggering of funds.

The spokeswoman said her department’s timetable for fixing the roads is completely weather-dependent.

“Ideally, it would be around 50 degrees to begin the process,” she said. “But even if we can get temperatures up to the 40s for any sustained amount of time, we could start then, too.”

DOT’s District 5 includes Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral and Morgan counties.

 

Report holes, make claims

You can help West Virginia’s Department of Transportation and maybe get some relief yourself from the state.

Lee Thorne, chief engineer of DOT’s District 5, said that drivers who notice potholes should contact their local county department.

“People can go online to the homepage and submit a request for maintenance,” he said. “We ask that they contact the local county headquarters and let them know and we’ll try to address it as soon as possible. … If the citizens don’t let us know there’s a pothole we don’t know about it.”

In some cases, the state’s Court of Claims will financially assist drivers whose vehicles are damaged as a result of harsh roadways, he said.

The Court of Claims claim form is available at www.legis.state.wv.us/joint/courtofclaims.cfm. To contact the Hamsphire County DOT, call 304-822-4167.

— Nick Gaudio[/cleeng_content]

 

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