|CHARLESTON, WV – As 2022 comes to an end, the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) is looking back at a year full of completed projects and new beginnings.
West Virginia Secretary of Transportation, Jimmy Wriston, P.E., said when he looks back on the year, one of the biggest takeaways is that the department is starting to see the fruits of its labor.
“We’ve completed a full maintenance cycle on Governor Justice’s Secondary Roads Initiative,” Wriston said. “We are seeing better road conditions after decades and decades of neglect and lack of funding. We’re starting to turn things around. Our systematic, data-driven approach is starting to pay dividends.”
A legislative audit of the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) maintenance budget, released in November, confirms the same.
|Results of the legislative audit of WVDOH’s maintenance budget confirmed that extra money spent on road maintenance over the past several years is paying off in better roads throughout the state. According to the audit, the WVDOH has doubled the total number of completed projects from the calendar year 2019 to 2022, while steadily increasing production each successive year.
The Secondary Roads Initiative, launched by Governor Jim Justice in 2019, in conjunction with the $2.8 billion Roads to Prosperity Program, specifically targets the roads West Virginians drive on every day for previously underfunded maintenance work. The core maintenance program, which includes ditching, drainage, mowing, milling and filling potholes, and tree canopy clearing focuses on activities that extend the life of roadways.
Jake Bumgarner, the Director of the Operations Division for WVDOH, said more than 2,300 miles of paving was done in the past year and 223 acres of tree canopy clearing.
Bumgarner said that recent WVDOT updates to policies and programs in place have helped set up a direct vision of what the organization is accomplishing on the ground with its core maintenance program. One core maintenance cycle is three years long; meaning that 2023 will mark the beginning of the second core maintenance cycle under the Secondary Roads Initiative.
“What I see when I drive around the state is a lot of work that has been completed,” Bumgarner said. “That is reflected in our core plans and the data we collect. You can see that difference from not too long ago that we are making on the roads for the citizens of West Virginia.”
|Along with the strong core maintenance figures, 2022 saw the completion of major Roads to Prosperity projects. When the Roads to Prosperity bond vote passed with 73 percent of West Virginians in favor in October of 2017, it marked the beginning of a program which included over one thousand, two hundred projects. Roads to Prosperity projects, such as the I-70 Bridges project which consisted of the replacement or revitalization of 26 aging bridges, would not have been completed without funding from the program, which made it possible to complete the projects right away rather than little by little over decades. 2022 was a year of looking back on progress made possible by Roads to Prosperity.
“We’re seeing those big, regionally significant projects starting to come to completion. The I-70 Bridges in Wheeling are nearing completion, with just a few punch list items to complete, and the Nitro St. Albans Bridge is half done and the end is in sight.”
The Nitro-St. Albans I-64 Widening projects replaces the four lane Donald M. Legg Memorial Bridge, opened in 1962, with the Nitro WWI Memorial Bridge to carry four lanes westbound and a new Donald M. Legg Memorial Bridge carrying four lanes eastbound. Continued growth through the region resulted in bottlenecks and backups at the old, four lane bridge. Increasing travel lanes through the area will allow continued economic growth and provide increased safety for the traveling public. On October, 28, 2022, Governor Justice and Secretary Wriston cut the ribbon on the new Nitro WWI Memorial Bridge. On December, 21, 2022, the 1,720,000 pound center section of the old Donald M. Legg Memorial bridge was lowered to a barge below. Moving into 2023, a new bridge, a twin to the new bridge just completed will be built to carry the eastbound lanes, permanently alleviating the bottleneck.
|In addition to the ribbon cutting ceremony on the new Nitro WWI Memorial Bridge, WVDOT celebrated major announcements on the Cheat River Bridge and Babcock Trail Grants, groundbreakings on the Coalfields Expressway to Welch, Wheeling Streetscape, and Culloden Interchange, and ribbon cuttings on the Bluefield Area Transit Transfer Station and Seneca Skyway, Capitol Circle and Cranberry Corridor Mountain Rides Routes, to name a few. Through a partnership with Tourism, some of West Virginia’s most scenic routes are now celebrated through the Mountain Rides program.
|During 2022, WVDOH continued the expansion of its capabilities of work completed by its own crews; paving with its own pavers, drilling with its own drills, and completing types of work not previously attempted — such as the restoration of the historic Carrollton Covered Bridge. The bridge, badly damaged by arson, saw new life thanks to the careful work of WVDOH’s own District 7 Bridge crews. Expanding capabilities on paving and drilling does not replace the work of its contracting partners, but allows the Division to gain ground on previously underfunded projects. Work completed with WVDOH’s own crews comes at a significant cost savings and allows the Division the flexibility to schedule crucial projects, such as those along school bus routes, more quickly.
WVDOT was recognized for several awards in 2022, including;Regional America’s Transportation Award at the Southern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO) 2022 annual meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi. The award was presented for Operations Excellence for the Oakwood RCUT project, which opened to traffic in late summer 2021.2022 ENR Mid-Atlantic Owner of the Year Award. The award cited innovation and creativity throughout the region as well as contributions to the community. Marshall University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science named WVDOH as its Employer of the Year, citing a strong Co-Op program which helps students transition from college to gainful employment and a tuition reimbursement program which helps students achieve their educational goals. WVDOT was also recognized at the Annual American Society of Civil Engineers Student Chapter Technical Conference in Beckley by faculty and engineering students at WVU Tech for its partnership and Co-Op program. In 2022, WVDOH responded to 12,126 citizen requests for information about specific roads and projects. Citizens can receive answers to their questions by calling 1-833-WVROADS, where they will receive a response within seven days letting them know the status of projects on the roads that matter most to them.
|WVDOT also welcomed a new Division in March, when Governor Justice signed a bill creating the new Division of Multimodal Transportation Facilities (DMTF.) The Division combines the Port Authority, Aeronautics Commission, Division of Public Transit, and State Rail Authority under the oversight on new Commissioner, Cindy Butler.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this organization and the way it’s pulled together,” Wriston said.
Working together as One DOT and in partnership with other agencies has allowed the WVDOT to accomplish projects such as Trout Run Bridge on Cass Scenic Railroad, which was washed out in the flood of 1985. All four WVDOT agencies, the West Virginia Division of Highways, Division of Motor Vehicles, Parkways Authority, and Division of Multimodal Transportation Agencies have realized projects and met goals not possible without this partnership. These projects include the Bluefield Area Transit Transfer Station, West Virginia Turnpike Chuck Yeager Bridge Painting now underway and innovations to Division of Motor Vehicles Online Services.
From the structural changes within the WVDOT to expanding partnerships to growing capabilities of its workforce, WVDOT begins 2023 in the midst of progress already set in motion. As Secretary Wriston explains, real change is accomplished when you focus on the systems and take a data driven approach.