By Pamela Pritt
The country roads that take us home are deteriorating at a rapid rate, costing drivers nearly $333 a year in extra vehicle costs and depreciation and, in some cases, costing them their lives.
A new study shows West Virginia has the second-highest road death rate in the U.S.
Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, announced Thursday she will introduce legislation to have a $1.2 billion road bond issue placed on the 2014 ballot.
“The people of West Virginia will decide whether they want good roads or not,” Staggers said. The state’s economy will not move without good roads, the delegate said, pointing out that economic development has followed expansion of the state’s Interstate system.
Staggers made the announcement during Transportation Day at the state Capitol, during which a report on the state’s road and bridge conditions by TRIP, a national transportation research group, was released.
Those extra driving costs add up to a statewide total of $400 million annually. The overall death rate — 1.78 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel — is worse on the state’s non-Interstate rural roads. On those roads, the rate of 2.54 fatalities per 100 million miles of travel is double the national average, the report said.
According to The Associated Press, Senate President Jeffrey Kessler also attended the news conference, but said it was the first time he’s heard about the idea to put a highway spending proposal before voters. He did agree that the need for road repair and construction has reached an emergency level and right now there’s no way to pay for the work.
“We don’t have a billion dollars sitting around spare in a bank account anywhere,” he said. “Somebody’s got to pay for it. If the people vote that they’re willing to pay for it, then that’s fine — they have decided that they’re willing to pay a little extra to take care of the roads that are so critical to taking care of their communities, their cities, their homes, their jobs and their businesses.”
In other findings, the report said:
- 12 percent of the state’s major roads have pavement in poor condition, while 24 percent are in mediocre condition.
- 13 percent of West Virginia’s bridges are structurally deficient; 22 percent are functionally obsolete because they do not meet current highway design standards. These bridges are safe for travel, the report said, and are monitored regularly.
- An annual average of 364 fatalities occurred on the state’s roadways between 2007 and 2011.
The report says the efficiency of the highways system is critical to the state’s economic health, finding that every $1 billion spent on highway construction supports 27,800 jobs, and each dollar spent translates into an average benefit of $5.20 in reduced vehicle costs, delays, fuel consumption, improved safety, reduced road and bridge maintenance costs and reduced emissions because of improved traffic flow.
In addition, the state relies on trucking to move goods to the tune of $49.8 billion, and companies look at the quality of the transportation system when deciding to relocate or expand, according to the report.
Federal funds comprise 34 percent of the state’s highways budget, but without action from Congress to fund the Federal Highway Trust Fund, the state’s road coffers could be cut by $425 million for the next fiscal year, the report said.
For a complete look at the TRIP report, go to http://www.tripnet.org.
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