The Times West Virginian

March 9, 2014

‘Pothole blitz’ badly needed service coming in West Virginia

Times West Virginian

— Hopefully, the heavy snow and extremely cold weather of January, February and early March are in the past.

Remnants of the harsh winter, though, remain. They’re faced each day by the state’s drivers.

Potholes have West Virginia’s roads in their worst condition in years, and the damaging freeze-thaw cycle is not over.

Help, though, is on the way, although it’s obviously going to take some time.

Call it the “pothole blitz.”

West Virginia’s Division of Highways is readying a multimillion-dollar plan to fill the potholes, which can do extensive damage to vehicles and create a safety hazard when motorists attempt to avoid them and move into the path of other vehicles.

“These potholes are the worst our maintenance crews have seen in years,” Carrie Bly, Department of Transportation spokeswoman, told the Charleston Daily Mail.

In early February, Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox met with senior officials in the state’s 10 highways districts to come up with a plan.

“Internally, we’ve called it a pothole blitz,” Bly said. “It’s our pothole plan of attack.”

Locally, those repairs are estimated to begin March 19. That’s when asphalt plants will open, explained Greg Phillips, an engineer in District 4 of the DOH, which includes Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston and Taylor counties.

“There are more potholes out there because of the weather and ice,” Phillips said. “This is the worst year we have had (for potholes) in 10 years.”

District 4 will receive around $1.2 million for potholes, Phillips said, and its workers will face a huge job.

“We have 11,600 road miles with potholes,” Phillips said. “It’s like driving across the United States a few times.”

District 4 monitors the roads with local workers who report the road conditions to the district. Phillips knows there are thousands and thousands of potholes in each county in the district.

“We do not need people calling in (the location of potholes),” Phillips said. “We look at it as a big picture.”

Funding is in place across the state. The Charleston Daily Mail reported last week that senior transportation officials have gone back and reviewed the list of projects they had budgeted funds for this year. They identified $12 million worth of non-critical projects that could be delayed until next year and are now diverting that money strictly to fixing potholes. That’s on top of the money the department was already planning to spend on pothole repair this year.

In the last three years, the state has spent an average of $18 million a year on pothole repair.

Bly said the department had already spent $9 million on the program during the current fiscal year, which began July 1. The $12 million will be added to the remaining amount that had been budgeted this year. In addition to asphalt, that money can go toward paying overtime and renting additional equipment to conduct repairs.

Current repairs are cold patching, which lasts only about a week or two.

Full-scale work will begin as the weather warms and asphalt plants, which close in the winter, reopen.

“We’re hopeful we can get them open in the next couple of weeks before April and then, once they do, we can start using the hot mixes, and that can be a permanent fix,” Bly said.

It will also be a busy time for crews who take care of city streets.

The “pothole blitz” will be a welcome project as this harsh winter finally turns to spring.