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W.Va. ranks 32nd in magazine's report of highway systems

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia ranks 32nd in the country in Reason magazine's 20th annual report on the Performance of State Highways Systems.

According to the report, the state has the fourth-highest highway fatality rate at 1.86 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles, a rate 60 percent higher than the national average.

The state also ranked 45th in percentage of bridges rated deficient, at 35.81 percent; and ranked 39th for condition of rural interstate roads, with 2.43 percent rated in poor condition.

Among positives, West Virginia had the fourth-lowest rate of urban interstate congestion.

West Virginia also had the second-lowest per-mile expenditure rate, at $40,436 per mile of state-maintained roadway. Only South Carolina was lower, at $31,379 per mile.

By contrast, the five top-spending states spent more than $500,000 per mile of state roadway, topped by New Jersey, at $1.2 million per mile.

"Overall, we're not surprised," state Division of Highways spokesman Brent Walker said of the report. "We're about middle-of-the-pack, at 32nd."

Walker said he also was not surprised that West Virginia ranked second in lowest expenditures per-mile on state highways.

"We do a pretty good job with the resources we're given," he said.

With 34,596 miles under state control, West Virginia operates the sixth-largest state highway system in the country, according to the Reason survey. West Virginia is one of a handful of states that has no county road system.

"Because we rank so highly in the number of miles we are responsible to maintain, these are things that put a burden on our state Road Fund," Walker said.

The annual report comes as the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways is preparing a series of statewide public hearings on funding state roads.

Consultants have told the commission the state needs about $600 million a year of additional funding to adequately maintain existing state roads, and more than $1.2 billion a year of new funds to complete and maintain the state road system.

The commission tentatively came up with $400 million of proposed tax and fee increases, including a 1 percent increase in the state sales tax to be dedicated to the Road Fund.

Walker said the public hearings would be significant.

"The more people discuss roads and the importance of having good transportation in everyday life, it's always going to be positive," he said.

As for the state's high traffic fatality rate, Walker said part of that comes from being a rural state with challenging topography.

However, he said the state's vehicle fatality rate has been declining in recent years, and should continue to improve with the state's new ban on using handheld devices while driving, and new law making failure to wear a seatbelt a primary traffic offense.

"All these things becoming primary offenses bodes well for us from a safety standpoint," Walker said.

The annual study was conducted by the Reason Foundation, a conservative/libertarian research organization based in Los Angeles.

Overall, the 20th annual report, based on 2009 data, concluded that North Dakota has the best, most cost-effective state highway system, followed by Kansas. Alaska had the worst state road system, followed by Rhode Island. Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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