CHARLESTON - As the West Virginia Department of Transportation prepares for the first sale of bonds in the "Roads to Prosperity" plan, money is being shifted around to update much-needed technology and infrastructure, but employees, who are lacking, still aren't seeing a pay raise.
Despite Gov. Jim Justice promising a pay raise for all state employees in his State of the State address earlier this month, DOT employees are not paid out of general revenue funds but special revenue, meaning they will not see a pay raise. This is true for about 12,500 state employees, according to a Gazette-Mail report.
At the same time, the DOT has 500 or more job openings. (DOT has said 500 but Del. Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia, implied Monday there were upward of 1,000 openings.)
DOT Secretary Tom Smith said Monday, Jan. 29, during a budget presentation to the House Finance Committee the agency is funding an organizational study that is currently ongoing to review best ways to recruit and retain employees, along with working to find a way to give a pay raise within its budget constraints.
Smith said there seemed to be the expectation they would be able to hire 500 people in two months, but they don't even have the human resources people to handle the big task.
"We are trying, but it's not instant," he said.
Frich said many other agencies not funded from general revenue have found ways to give a pay raise, and she was surprised DOT had not.
Thanks to a 1.64-percent increase in DMV fee revenue, money has also been shifted to upgrade infrastructure needed to effectively execute the roads program. Smith said the agency currently has computers that don't connect to the internet and does not have the right computers to do bridge inspections.
Buildings are also in disrepair, with employees in Fairmont working in a condemned building. DOT also has land in Poca it was going to build on but haven't yet. DOT officials are now being told they have to do something with it.
They also increased money to do routine maintenance of roads, like filling potholes and fixing ditches.
As for the general obligation bonds approved by voters in November, the first sale of $800 million will go out in May, Smith said.
The most important project with this money will be completing entrance and exit ramps on "the bridge to nowhere" in Mercer County, part of the King Coal Highway.
Smith said the earlier projects will include the Interstate 70 bridges in Wheeling, which he said are falling apart. No tolls will be used for that project. The St. Albans/Nitro bridge on Interstate 64 is also an early project.
GARVEE bonds, which are federally funded, are going to be used for interstate reconstruction, which has only been done on seven miles of West Virginia interstate in the past 10 years, Smith said. Reconstruction totally tears out the road, breaks up the base and resurfaces it.
Sixty miles of construction will begin in the spring.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.