The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

July 12, 2014

Report: State’s roads among worst in the United States

BECKLEY — With the sixth-largest highway system in the country, West Virginia ranks near the top of states with the worst road conditions. In fact, the Mountain State is tied with Rhode Island for the second-worst roads in the nation, according to a report released by TRIP, a non-profit organization that studies the nation’s highways.

The state’s rural roads and bridges have significant deficiencies, the report said.

“Providing the nation with a rural transportation system that will support the nation’s economy and future development will require that the U.S. invest in (a) rural transportation system that is safe, efficient and well-maintained, and that provides adequate mobility and connectivity to the nation’s rural communities,” the report concluded.

“In 2012, 33 percent of West Virginia’s major rural roads were rated in poor condition, the third-highest rate nationally,” the report said. “In 2013, 13 percent of West Virginia’s rural bridges were rated as structurally deficient, the 19th-highest rate nationally.”

The report blamed some of the deficiencies on increased traffic from the development of new oil and gas fields, as well as increased agricultural production, causing additional heavy-weight traffic on roads not constructed to withstand that kind of traffic.

West Virginia’s traffic crashes and fatalities on rural roads are significantly higher than all other roads in the state, with a fatality rate of 2.8 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, the third-highest nationally.

Adding to the state’s roadway woes, the Federal Highway Trust Fund is dwindling to $1 billion, the point at which the fund will stop making regular payments to states. That means the state could lose more than $470 million in federal funds slated for West Virginia’s 203 current highway projects.

Secretary of Transportation Paul Mattox told The Register-Herald Thursday that he is optimistic Congress will act on the FHTF before Aug. 1, although he does have a Plan B, just in case. Mattox said contractors could take a reduced payment from the state or stop work altogether until the issue is resolved at the federal level.

Carol Fulks, chair of West Virginians for Better Transportation, said a modern, well-maintained transportation system is vital to the state’s economy.

“(L)ong-term funding plans — on the federal and state levels — are needed to address the current problem and to meet future expansion projects,” Fulks said.

According to the New York Times, both houses of Congress have yielded bipartisan plans for funding the trust, but disagree on how to pay for it.

“So many of our industry’s manufacturing facilities and their workers are located in rural America, where they depend on safe and efficient roads for their livelihoods,” said Rick Patek, group president of Astec Industries and 2014 chairman of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. “As Congress weighs how to extend the Highway Trust fund, they would be well-advised to read this report and consider the effects of their actions on rural roads.”

Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP, predicted that without an improved highway system, the country’s rural communities and economies could face even higher unemployment and decline. Wilkins said funding more modern roads in rural areas will mean the opposite, creating jobs and ensuring long-term economic development.

“The safety and quality of life in America’s small communities and rural areas and the health of the nation’s economy ride on our rural transportation system,” Wilkins said.

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