Staffing issues slowing state road repairs

April 16, 2019

HUNTINGTON - State and local officials are seeking ways to overcome red tape in hiring workers for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, which is seeking to boost repair and maintenance of secondary roads.

Gov. Jim Justice has asked each of the department’s 10 districts to make secondary road maintenance a priority amid reported shortages of manpower and equipment necessary to tackle the work.

Officials within District 2, which includes Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo and Wayne counties, gathered Monday at the district’s headquarters in Huntington to discuss funding, secondary roads and the Roads to Prosperity projects.

The state’s elected officials discussed how they could help the department hire more workers to fill necessary employee quotas. The DOT last month released a stack of binders listing roads in need of repairs submitted by each of the 55 county supervisors and district managers.

Cabell County, which submitted a 42-page list of secondary roads in need of patching, currently has 40 employees on staff. However, they need at least 51 to fill the necessary quota.

“We have labor issues that we are hearing,” said Scott Eplin, District 2 manager. “My challenge is to come up with solutions to those transportation issues.”

One of the problems in getting workers is a long hiring process, which comes with multiple levels of bureaucracy, said Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, who is vice chairman of the Technology and Infrastructure Committee.

“When our citizens are telling us our roads look like Swiss cheese, one of the most difficult things as a legislator is that we have appropriated the money, we are working to get more money for maintenance and repair, but it turns out we are having difficulty with having staff to complete those jobs,” he said.

Linville said he’s asked for a step-by-step account of the DOT’s hiring process to identify ways it can be improved. He said he will then shape legislation to cut down any overlap between the department and the West Virginia Division of Personnel.

Justice previously vetoed a road bond bill involving secondary roads on a technical issue. Justice has called for a special session some time before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1 to focus on education reform, which would allow legislators to revisit the vetoed bill.

“I hope to get as much information as I can to refine and maybe add things in this bill to allow government to get out of its own way,” Linville said.

Eplin said he was interested in one suggestion to hire inmates with nonviolent records, or those in work release programs, to perform some non-labor intensive work like cleaning up litter along the highways. This would free up DOT employees from focusing on litter and debris cleanup and allow them to focus on more road repairs.

Also during Monday’s meeting, Eplin gave an update on the district’s progress in the Roads to Prosperity program, which was a road bond referendum funding projects to repair some of the state’s primary infrastructure.

Eplin said the district is progressing on time with several projects despite spouts of bad weather. One project along U.S. 52 between Williamson to Kenova, also known as Tolsia Highway, has encountered an archaeological snag that the department is working to resolve, he said.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.