By Bob Weaver

The West Virginia Department of Highways is changing how county highway divisions maintain roads, causing some concern among regional highway employees.

A statewide Core Maintenance Plan, implemented 18-months-ago, is calling for better utilization of manpower and equipment, according to John Walker, Deputy State Highway Engineer.

Walker told the Herald the new program is eliminating some work projects generally handled by county workers.

Employee concerns are likely linked to the department gathering equipment from the counties, related to work no longer performed under the Core Maintenance Plan.

"There is a downsizing of equipment. We're going to get rid of the old equipment first," said Walker.

The equipment will be sold at a gigantic auction in Buckhannon on May 12.

"We've always used contractors to take care of some slips and pipe work," said Walker, adding the changes are "More about managing dollars than contracting."

The districts will still handle a number of maintenance projects.

Walker said "We don't anticipate any layoffs. We're going to focus on basic road maintenance."

The DOH believes it can make as much as $4 million by auctioning off large machinery that is currently sitting idle at DOH maintenance garages across the state.

State Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox says the department will have two auctions later this year, along with an on-line auction that will include 15 bulldozers, 60 dump trucks, 12 excavators, 50 endloaders and 45 graders.

Mattox says the equipment isn't being used. The money gained from the auctions will be used to pave more roads and repair more bridges.

He maintains getting rid of the equipment does not indicate the department plans to contract out more of its work, while indicating there are plans to reduce the DOH transportation fleet by 200 vehicles.

Still, some highway employees are concerned the downsizing means more work will be done by contractors, indicating it sounds like more outsourcing.