WV road maintenance under budget strain

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel 

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Drivers in West Virginia face a greater risk to their vehicles than in most other states. The assaults come from all directions — including the apparently massive bugs that end their lives against our windshields; and the berry-filled birds that perch in trees above our parked cars.

First comes news from State Farm Insurance that in their annual analysis of auto collision claims, the Mountain State comes in at the top of the list for the likelihood a vehicle will strike a deer. The odds last year were 1 in 41 —  a 5.4 percent increase over the previous year. That makes ten years in a row that West Virginia drivers have had the greatest chance in the country of hitting a deer.

There may not be much in the way of policy that could affect those numbers — we call our state Wild and Wonderful for a reason — but the folks lobbying for another day in the week to hunt deer on their private property might have a couple of ideas.

On the other hand, legislators should probably take a look at how to reduce the kinds of numbers seen in an audit of Division of Highways data that showed 1,320 claims filed against the agency by drivers, most of whom had hit potholes that damaged their vehicles. That is an 800 percent increase over the number of such claims filed just five years ago.

Of course, there is less money to spend on paving and road maintenance these days. But failing to properly maintain roads is costing the state money, too. Auditors estimated each claim costs $872 in staff time to process, and the average reward paid out is $343 per claim. The state Division of Highways told another media outlet it does not know how much it actually ends up paying in pothole claims; though based on the auditors’ estimates, the maximum possible amount would be about $1.6 million. Unfortunately that kind of money does not go far when it comes to road maintenance.

But if lawmakers follow one of the audit’s suggestions — stop paying road damage claims completely — taxpayers had better have some assurance that money WILL go back into the road maintenance budget. If the matter is not addressed, the Division of Highways is facing a bumpy road.

See more from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

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