The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

June 2, 2013

Safety hazard

According to a report provided by The Associated Press this week, federal highway data show that nearly 1,000 bridges in West Virginia are structurally deficient.

If that weren’t bad enough, the report stated that on a sufficiency scale of 0 to 100, the Federal Highway Administration rates seven bridges in the state at 0.

Zero.

West Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Brent Walker insisted that these federal ratings don’t mean the state’s bridges are unsafe.

It certainly doesn’t mean they’re safe.

In fact, it’s a very sobering statistic.

We cross these bridges on a daily basis. Our children ramble over them in large school buses. Even if the bridges are not in immediate danger of falling, they’re not improving with age and additional wear.

The ratings serve as a guideline to prioritize the use of federal funds. Any bridge that scores below 80 is eligible for renovation or rehabilitation. A score below 50 makes a bridge eligible for federal replacement.

If other funds are necessary to bring roads and bridges up to speed, strong consideration should be given to placing tolls on roads throughout our state. Southern West Virginia drivers have shouldered the majority of that burden for long enough.

And the state should get creative with other means of raising funds, too.

States are required by the federal government to inspect their bridges at least every two years.

It’s a good thing they’re being checked.

Now action must be taken to raise that zero rating to acceptable standards.

Our roads are critical to West Virginia’s future. We cannot afford to let regress the progress we’ve been making.

Our hope is that West Virginia stays on top of this issue and not just take on the “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” mentality.

Because it just might not be the wisest decision — in more ways than one.

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