Map of road work shows massive cost of projects

If you haven’t looked at the West Virginia Division of Highways’ new interactive road work map (transportation.wv.gov), you really should. A glance at the whole-state map may raise a question in your mind:

What are all those blue dots in the Northern Panhandle?

Answer: Money pits.

DOH officials unveiled the online map recently to let Mountain State residents check on highway and bridge projects in all 55 counties. It’s updated every two weeks and it’s a handy way of getting an idea of the magnitude of West Virginia’s transportation infrastructure needs.

The map is color-coded, with dots designating various types of work. Ditching, patching, repaving, bridge projects and slides (often referred to as slips) are shown in different colors. Completed work and ongoing projects are in different colors.

A look at the whole state discloses two interesting things: First, virtually all of West Virginia is covered by colored dots, except for a few big gaps in the mountainous eastern counties.

Second, DOH District 6, the Northern Panhandle from Hancock County south through Tyler County, is a mass of blue dots. Each one of them represents a slide repair site.

Map users can zero in to show just the slide repair needs. Statewide, 481 projects are shown. Two hundred eleven have been completed, with 270 listed as “ongoing.”

Nearly half the slide repair sites for the entire state are in District 6. There are a total of 217 of them in the district, with 109 completed and 108 “ongoing.”

Stop and think about what it costs to repair roads. Ditching and pothole patching are reasonably inexpensive. Bridge repair, such as the Interstate 70 initiative here in Ohio County, can be very pricey. The I-70 contract is for $214.6 million.

But not far down the price scale is slide, or slip, repair. Drive by a site where it is being done and you can see why. Often, steel pilings have to be driven to keep hillsides from slipping.

No wonder Marshall County officials and residents have been so upset about deteriorated roads. Though the statistics section of the map doesn’t seem to be capable of listing slide numbers for each county, a quick count of the dots in Marshall County indicates more than 80 of them there. That’s about one-sixth of the slips in the entire state.

Combine the bridge projects — I-70 isn’t the only one in the Northern Panhandle — with the slide/slip sites and it becomes apparent that DOH District 6 may need a greater share of road repair money than any other region in the state. That conclusion, I have to note, is based merely on a look at the DOH map, not dollar amounts from the state agency. Still, a lot of costly repair work is needed in our region.

That has led to talk among some Northern Panhandle state legislators that they may need to take extraordinary steps to ensure we get what we need. There’s been discussion that the old Northern Panhandle Caucus of lawmakers — a bipartisan effort established some years ago to form a united front on our behalf, ought to be reinvigorated.

With an election coming up next year, bipartisanship may be difficult. Still, as Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, put it recently, “There are potholes out there. They aren’t Democrat or Republican potholes.” He may want to amend that to point out there are no liberal or conservative slips chewing away at our roads.

This isn’t a matter of “fairness” — it’s one of need. Many of our roads aren’t just pockmarked with potholes — they’re falling into creeks.

And, interesting to consider, it’s easy to blame the big gas industry trucks for tearing up pavement, not so realistic to blame them for slips and rusty bridges (though, of course, the more weight on the edge of an already unstable hillside, the worse).

At some point, the money for road repairs is going to dry up. Let’s hope the Northern Panhandle Caucus is effective in ensuring our area gets the funding it needs now and in the future before that happens.

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.