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Road slips, slides cause big headaches

craig cunningham/daily mail
Workers repair a slip in the Cool Springs Addition off Tuppers Creek Road. They were able to keep one lane open.
Residents want this slip on Long Branch Road in southwestern Kanawha County fixed as soon as possible, but state Division of Highways officials said they must prioritize repair projects because of budget constraints.
craig cunningham/daily mail
This section of Amity Drive was recently repaired after a slip caused damage to the road.
matt murphy/daily mail
This slip on Long Branch Road has frustrated residents since last year.

Joyce Pauley is worried that if something happens to her or her husband, emergency services won’t be able to reach their Long Branch Road home.

A 2013 slip divided the road – one section now runs adjacent to a creek bed toward Davis Creek and a narrow, steep, windy section with short sight lines crosses a hill and connects with Trace Fork Road.

Pauley and several of her neighbors wound up on the steep side.

What remains of the steep end of the road is now beginning to slip down the hill as well.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do this winter,” she said “There’s a few elderly people here and me and my husband, we have serious health problems.”

With the road cut in half, Pauley said she’s worried she won’t be able to drive her husband to the hospital or that an ambulance wouldn’t be able to navigate the hill in winter conditions.

“What if I can’t get out of here, what if I can’t get my husband out of here?” she said. “Call 911? What if they can’t get to us?”

The road outage has also added significant time for the Pauleys to get to other services, like to Kroger or other stores. The outage has also made their 10-minute trip to Ivydale Baptist Church on Middle Fork Drive into a 40-minute drive.

The Long Branch Road slip, of course, isn’t the only slip that has caused problems for area residents in recent months.

At the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014, several major slips cut off residents from services across Southern West Virginia. This spring, Alum Creek residents in Lincoln County held a meeting to try to get a section of Coal River Road repaired.

Slips (where the earth falls out beneath a road) and slides (where earth falls on top of a road) are unfortunately common in West Virginia, said Brent Walker, state Department of Transportation spokesman.

“We’ve got thousands of slips and slides across the state,” he said.

But because of budget and equipment constraints, the department has to prioritize which ones receive immediate attention and which ones must wait.

Walker said the department has about $250 million budgeted annually for highway maintenance, but that amount has to be stretched for labor, equipment, mowing, paving, sign work and bridge work across every inch of the 36,000 miles of road the state owns and maintains.

“Our infrastructure needs are great, our maintenance needs are great,” he said. “It sounds like a broken record, but we absolutely do the best we can.”

Pauley said part of the frustration is not knowing when the road will be fixed. She said she was told in 2013 it would be fixed the same year. When that didn’t happen, she said a Division of Highways maintenance chief told her it would be repaired last month.

That didn’t happen, either.

“I want some answers,” she said. “I want them to tell me when it’s going to be fixed.”

Walker said each maintenance division keeps a working list of road projects. When a new slip or slide is reported, the department sends someone to look at the problem and evaluate it.

The department factors in funding, equipment availability and alternate access in determining which slips get fixed first. The extent of repairs needed can also factor in.

“It’s tough for us and it’s something we’re often criticized about,” he said. “It’s important for us to make permanent repairs to these roads.”

Pauley said a recent resurfacing project on U.S. 119 in light of her and her neighbors’ situation is also upsetting.

“They’re paving, and we’re sitting here without a road,” she said. “It’s very frustrating.”

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