CHARLESTON, WV – As many West Virginians were caught in the path of Winter Storm Gail this week, the West Virginia Division of Highways snowplow drivers were working around an extra set of difficulties. With community spread of COVID-19 across the state, transportation workers are among the quarantined. At an already tough time of year, their co-workers are rising to the occasion to fill in. Workers, who in many cases are taking on 12-hour shifts, appreciate the public for giving them space as they clear the icy roadways.
“In District 4, that’s Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor counties, we began shuffling personnel around to help with the worse areas,” said Mike Cronin, P.E., District 4 Engineer. “All equipment was readied before the storm and we had plans in place. We concentrate on the primary roads first and then to go the secondary, as always. With this storm, we reminded the public to be cautious, as it was a mix of snow and then ice, making a very hazardous situation.”
In District 9, which includes Fayette, Greenbrier, Monroe, Nicholas, and Summers counties, Maintenance Engineer, Jim Moore, P.E., made similar plans.
“We staged personnel and equipment on the roadway before the storm. Salt, or salt/cinder mix, was applied directly in advance of the storm as soon as the road became wet for the material to stick. The drivers followed their assigned routes, focusing to clear high-speed, high-traffic corridors first, and then moved to lower traffic routes. They continued to work in two 12-hour shifts around the clock until all the roads were cleared and the shoulders pushed back.”
Snowplow drivers across the state remind the public to keep their distance from the plows, to avoid salt as it exits the plow. The plows are heavy, and difficult to maneuver, especially when visibility is low. Management works to arrange schedules for employees to cover routes in cases where employees are currently quarantined.
“Currently we have some transportation workers off due to COVID quarantines,” said Moore. “However, our human resources staff is diligently working to clear those who have fulfilled the requirements of our stringent return-to-work policy, and we have shifted disforce and former maintenance employees from other organizations to cover the remaining plow-truck vacancies. We keep our people safe and follow Governor Justice’s COVID-19 guidelines, while keeping the public safe on the roads. Heavy snowfalls or extremely cold temperatures below 20 degrees create hazardous conditions, so we ask that the public allow extra time for travel.”
“If it was easy, everyone would do it,” said Jimmy Wriston, P.E., Deputy Secretary of Transportation. “Our people at the West Virginia Department of Transportation are the best in the country. When it’s time to rise to the occasion and get the job done, they always come through.”
“I couldn’t be prouder to be working for this agency right now,” said Byrd White, Secretary of Transportation. “It’s been a difficult, burdensome year, but they’ve been flexible and creative, diligent and careful, all at the same time, to get done what we needed them to do.”