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W.Va., Rhode Island tied for 2nd-worst rural roads, study says

By Phil Kabler, Staff writer

Rural roads tend to be in worse condition and have higher fatality rates than urban roadways, with West Virginia’s rural roads among the worst in the nation, according a study released Thursday by TRIP, a private, nonprofit organization devoted to improving the nation’s highways.

It found that 33 percent of West Virginia’s rural roads are in poor condition — tied with Rhode Island for second worst in the United States, behind Connecticut.

West Virginia also has the third-highest rural road fatality rate in the country, with 2.8 traffic accident fatalities per 100 million miles traveled. That ranks behind just South Carolina and Florida, and is nearly three times higher than the fatality rate for all other state roads, according to the report.

“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,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP.

Exacerbating issues with rural roads in West Virginia and other states, the study concluded, is the boom in oil and natural gas production, spurred by expansion of hydraulic fracking operations.

“The development of significant new oil and gas fields in numerous areas, particularly in the North Central Plains . . . are placing significantly increased traffic loads by large trucks on non-Interstate rural roads, which often have not been constructed to carry such high load volumes,” the study found.

An upturn in agriculture production also is overstressing rural roads and bridges in many parts of the country, according to the study.

The backdrop for the report is the ongoing congressional impasse on reauthorizing the federal Highway Trust Fund, which the study notes could cost West Virginia $470 million a year in federal funding for highway projects.

“A modern, well-maintained West Virginia transportation system is of vital importance to the state’s economy, particularly in helping to preserve the jobs of so many industries and drive new opportunities,” said Carol Fulks, chairwoman of West Virginians for Better Transportation (WVBT). “However, long-term funding plans — on the federal and state levels — are needed to address the current problems and to meet future expansion projects.”

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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