HARTS — Residents of the Harts area gathered at Hugh Dingess Elementary School Monday evening for a forum with three officials from the West Virginia Department of Transportation to discuss the condition of the roads there.
The forum was organized by Del. Margitta Mazzocchi (R-Logan, 24). Fielding questions from a little more than a dozen people were Randy Redmond, the administrator of Logan County’s local DOT; Chris Collins, a maintenance engineer for district two of the WVDOT; and Rob Pennington, engineer for district two of the WVDOT.
Pennington did the bulk of the talking and during the first 15 minutes of the meeting, he explained some of the DOT’s road projects in Logan County this year and how the state road system gets funding for certain projects. Pennington also explained how certain factors, such as traffic volume and natural disasters like flooding, play into how roads get prioritized for paving and repair projects.
Residents said they were primarily concerned with roads in areas like Harts Mountain, Buck Fork and Smokehouse Road. Numerous individuals vented their frustrations with what they said is the state road system’s little to no response in fixing the issues.
“I live up here toward the main road, about 12 miles up the road,” said resident Ralph Police. “There’s a place two miles up above here, the road is broken. It’s slipped for over 100 yards. You gotta drive on one side of the road to get up through there. It’s been like that for 15 years, but all you fellas do is come in, throw some blacktop in it, and leave it alone. In a year’s time, six month’s time, it’s right back down again.”
Police went on to discuss what he said is a wooden bridge that was blacktopped that now has a large hole in it. He said large trucks like loggers and coal trucks drive across it when it is unsuitable to do so.
“They can talk about Buck Fork, they can talk about the mountain. All these roads over here are going out,” Police said. “I pay as much taxes as anybody in this place, but I’m not back in one of the hollers, and it’s not just one thing, it’s all of it. As far as maintenance goes, it’s a joke.”
Pennington said the repair of a large slip in a blind “switchback” curve on the Harts side of county route 5, the route number for Harts Mountain, is next on the repair agenda. He said an earlier plan to fix the slip was delayed due to the contractor showing up at the wrong site.
Redmond said a milling crew is scheduled to be on county route 5 in the coming days.
“I drive that road about three times a week, and I’m going to have a milling crew over there probably in the next couple of days, OK?” Redmond said. “We’re sort of undermanned, but I’m going to have a crew over there, and we’re going to patch it. Now as far as paving, I don’t have the money, I can’t, but it’s on the list to be paved, it’s one of them.”
Pennington said Harts Mountain has a traffic volume far less than other road projects that have been prioritized much sooner. He said West Virginia’s continual population decline has added to that issue by resulting in fewer vehicles on rural roads like Harts Mountain.
“When we look at paving the boulevard (in Logan), paving down to Peach Creek, you’re talking about traffic of up to 10,000 cars a day,” Pennington said. “If you go over Harts Mountain, it’s about 150 cars a day at the top of the mountain.”
Resident Harley Adams said one reason traffic has declined on Harts Mountain is because the road has deteriorated so much that people in that area choose alternate, longer routes instead.
Several residents discussed road conditions in the Buck Fork area of Harts. David Kinser said the road is nothing but repeated patching jobs, and Barb Gitchel quipped that it’s so rough that auto repairs have to be done after driving on it.
“From my house to the very end of Buck Fork Road, which runs into (W.Va.) Route 10, which is a beautiful road, you turn off on Buck Fork Road, you have to get a new alignment on your car from there up to my house,” Gitchel said. “My son lives three minutes from me. It takes me forever to get around there, but we call it the ‘hill road’ to get to him. Jim Justice got on television and said all these back roads will be fixed, and I got on the computer, and I said, ‘Liar! Mine hasn’t been touched!’ ”
Pennington said he drove all the roads in question prior to the meeting and took video of all of them. He said the roads at Buck Fork are what is referred to as a “tar and chip” job and conceded that conditions are not great.
“Buck Fork is rough, I will give you that,” Pennington said.
Kinser added that the road conditions make receiving medical assistance challenging.
“One of the main concerns that we have over here about the roads is we have a lot of elderly, and we have a lot of sick that’s over here,” Kinser said. “If we need to call an ambulance and be rushed to the hospital, it takes an ambulance an hour to get to where someone lives at, and then it’s going to take another hour to get the person out of here to the hospital or somewhere where they can get medical care.”
Pennington said the roads at White Oak and Smokehouse Road are in good shape, but Steven Police disagreed to an extent.
“When he says Smokehouse, I live right on that at Police Drive, and I took a bunch of pictures awhile back,” Police said. “The roads ain’t good. They ain’t really good. I can’t even walk a dog on it. I can take you right now and show you. Some places is good, but once you get halfway down here where I live at, there’s guardrails laying all over the road. I watched a woman and a kid the other day, I prayed on it. I said, ‘If they don’t fix that right there, somebody’s going to get killed.’ Somebody came through there the other day, a woman had a kid on the end of it, had her in the seatbelt and stuff, I watched them come by and they didn’t have no place to go. They came on the edge, no guardrail. Right by my house, there ain’t no guardrail.”
Pennington said route 5 is a priority one road, which means it’s a main highway. Roads like Buck Fork and Smokehouse are priority two roads, which means they are paved roads that branch off of a priority one road.
Eugene Mazzocchi, husband of Del. Margitta Mazzocchi, asked if any school buses travel over Harts Mountain. Redmond said none do, but residents said there is one that travels Buck Fork every day.
Throughout the meeting, Pennington provided information regarding several projects on roads in the Harts area in the past few years. He said $4 million has been spent on county route 5 and was able to show a project on Buck Fork from 2011.