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Condition of W.Va. rural roads ranks low

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia is ranked in the top 20 in three undesirable categories by a Washington, D.C., -based nonprofit transportation research group.

Released Tuesday, the annual TRIP report on the condition of rural roads in the United States says West Virginia’s rural pavement is in the sixth poorest condition of the 50 states; is 16th worst for structurally deficient rural bridges; and has the seventh greatest rate of fatalities on rural roads.

According to the report, 29 percent of the pavement on rural roads in West Virginia is in poor condition, 55 percent is mediocre to fair, and 26 percent is in good condition; 13 percent, or 787 of 6,111, of the state’s rural bridges are structurally deficient; and the state has a fatality rate of 2.61 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled on rural roads.

The rankings for pavement conditions and fatalities are based on 2013 statistics. The ranking for bridge deficiencies are from 2014 statistics. The statistics are taken from Federal Highway Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sources, according to the report.

Structurally deficient means the bridge needs repairs of various degrees, but is not necessarily dangerous. Bridges also are rated as functionally obsolete, which means the design of the bridge is no longer suitable for its current use.

“Whenever you have any kind of information dealing with rural roads, West Virginia is going to be in that mix,” Brent Walker, director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “More than 90 percent of West Virginia’s roads are rural, so there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to be driving on a rural road if you’re driving in West Virginia.”

Walker said the state is already implementing several of the suggestions in the TRIP report to make rural roads safer, such as rumble strips on the edges and center of roadways; better lighting; cable barriers and extended guard rails; roughing roads on curves; and installing gradually sloping safety shoulders.

“We could do better, but we are proud of West Virginia’s decline in highway fatalities from 2013 to 2014,” Walker said. “In 2013, we had a total of 332 fatalities. There were 48 on Interstate highways and 284 on non-Interstate highways, or rural roads. In 2014, there were 42 fatalities on Interstate highways and 230 on rural routes for a total of 272.”

He added that most of the accidents recorded in West Virginia could have been prevented.

“You could call it human error,” Walker said. “The biggest reasons for accidents are excessive speed and distracted driving.”

Of West Virginia’s neighboring states, Pennsylvania also made the top 20 in the three categories. It is 20th in poor rural pavement conditions at 18 percent; first in structurally deficient bridges at 25 percent; and 17th in fatalities on rural roads at 2.23 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

Virginia is 17th in poor rural pavement conditions at 19 percent.

The Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways is scheduled to release its report at 1:30 p.m. today. The commission was appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2012 to find ways to fund roadway maintenance and construction in West Virginia. It has been estimated that it would cost at least $1 billion annually to maintain the existing roadway system and construct the needed expansion of the system.

– Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128.

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