Department of Highways Changes?

(04/30/2007)

Dear Editor,

Those who routinely travel on West Virginia highways, especially those not close Charleston and Fairmont should be aware of a major change being instituted by those now running the Division of Highways.

On May 12 there will be at Buckhannon a huge sale of "surplus equipment" which will include all or almost all the department's hydraulic excavators, bulldozers, track hoes, new tandem trucks and new FWD trucks, grass mowers, end loaders, road graders, etc.

After the sale, all pipe installation, removal of rocks and slips from roadways, slide repair, etc. will be done by contractors "as a money saving measure." Instead of the local crew coming out and removing rocks and dirt that have the road blocked, contractors will have to be contacted and, one would assume, bids obtained.

The department's PR folks have stated that this equipment has been "idle" and is not needed. As a now retired Wirt County road supervisor, I know that this is really 'a play on words' and thus, technically, not a lie. If the local crew has been ordered to only cut brush and pick up beer bottles & cans, then all the heavy equipment is sitting "idle" and is charged to the idle equipment rental account. Those who work for highways have been threatened with job loss if this new plan is discussed and Turman, the department's chief political officer, has visited local highways locations to assure compliance.

In Wirt County it has been customary that all main roads are grass mowed before Decoration (Memorial) Day. Since Wirt County will lose its only mower they are now out mowing even though by next month the grass and weeds will be back up again.

When asked what the men would do without equipment it was stated that they would do "core maintenance" that is litter pickup, dead animal removal, brush cutting, pulling ditches with a grader and patching potholes. Retired employees have been contacted to work straight time at $8.50/hr treating snow in winter which means that the plan is to not fill vacancies. Of course the flagmen for the contractors will make 3 times what the experienced snowplow operators will be making but someone will have to negotiate a contract. Employees cannot be forced to "contribute" but contractors who get contracts understand "the rules of the game."

It would be hoped that the governor will see the obvious error and misdirection being taken by the highway department before it is too late. In the past money from the sale of old equipment was put in the fund to buy new and thus maintain the rolling stock. Now the money is to be used for a one time spend on other items for which, it is said, there is no longer any money.

This plan was announced to highways employees after the legislators left town and not even legislative leaders were aware of this landmark change in the way highways are to be maintained.

Sincerely yours,

Alvin L. Engelke
alvinengelke@hotmail.com