The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

July 13, 2014

Reminder

To the surprise of no one in West Virginia, our roads rank near the bottom when it comes to rating the nation’s highways state-by-state.

West Virginia finds itself tied for second-worst, tied with Rhode Island and behind only Connecticut.

The study by TRIP, a nonprofit group that focuses on the nation’s highways, found state roads and bridges have significant deficiencies.

“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.”

In addition, traffic accidents and fatalities were significantly frequent on our rural roads, with a fatality rate of 2.8 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, the third-highest nationally.

A large part of the reason for the road problems in West Virginia should come as no surprise, either, given the difficulties of terrain that make building and maintaining our roads and highways a real chore.

But there are new problems, as well, according to the study. Some of the deterioration of our roadways is due to 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.

It’s a reminder to all of us that as we diversify our economy in the state, it may not come cost-free.

But that doesn’t mean improving our transportation infrastructure is a lost cause — far from it.

“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.

But just how we’re going to make our roads and highways better is also at a surprisingly important crossroads.

The Federal Highway Trust Fund is dwindling to $1 billion, and when it reaches that level, the fund will stop making regular payments to states. That means West Virginia could lose more than $470 million in federal funds for 203 current highway projects.

State Secretary of Transportation Paul Mattox told The Register-Herald last week that he is optimistic Congress will act on the FHTF before Aug. 1, but he’s got a backup plan just in case. That would entail contractors agreeing to a reduced payment from the state or stop work altogether until the funding issue is resolved at the federal level in Washington.

We’re sure Congress will act in time on an issue of such importance for all of the nation.

But the problem of the state’s roadways and highways, and the ebbing of the federal highway trust fund, is worrying for West Virginia.

As we continue to work to diversify our economy in southern West Virginia, effective transportation is a cornerstone to all that we have planned, and all that we have dreamed.

“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,” TRIP Director Will Wilkins said.

We know that better than just about anybody.

Washington needs to stop playing politics and rescue the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

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