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W.Va. Rural Roads Continue to Crumble, Highway Workers Face Possible Lay-Offs

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Sarah Lowther Hensley
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

More research has surfaced indicating the abysmal state of rural infrastructure these days, especially in West Virginia, and shortfalls in federal funding for highway maintenance could make the problem worse as well as leave many road workers filing for unemployment.

TRIP Report

Recently a report was released by TRIP, a private national transportation research nonprofit out of Washington, DC.

The organization is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers; businesses involved in highway and transit engineering and construction; labor unions; and other organizations concerned with surface transportation.

It’s the second report in the last five years that investigates the nation’s rural transportation system. Their data indicates that nationally, since their last report in 2011:

  • rural pavement conditions have continued to slowly deteriorated
  • there have been modest improvements in overall bridge conditions
  • rural traffic fatalities continue to be of alarming concern

In West Virginia:

  • West Virginia ranks among the worst states, when it comes to the conditions of our roads
  • 1/3 of the rural roads were listed in poor condition in 2012, and
  • 13 percent of the state’s rural bridges were rated as structurally deficient

“Rural transportation has a traffic fatality rate nearly triple all other roads in the country," says Rocky Moretti, the director of policy and research with TRIP.
He says, typically rural roads don’t have a lot of the safety features that are desirable—things that can have a significant impact making rural roads safer like:

  • rumble strips
  • paved shoulders
  • turn lanes
  • good lane markings
  • guard rails

Federal Funding Shortfall

In West Virginia, we skate a thin line financially as the state maintains the 6th-largest highway system in the country. It’s a fact understood all too well by Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractor’s Association of West Virginia. He says current federal shortfalls in highway funding are threatening road construction jobs.

Currently in West Virginia, over 200 federally funded Department of Highways contracts are underway, employing thousands of workers. Clowser says West Virginia is the only state he knows of that has no backup plan in the event that the federal dollars dry up.

Clowser reports the Department of Highways is giving contractors two options in light of the shortfall:

  1. lay people off
  2. continue working for 50 cents on the dollar

Clowser says the House has already passed a bill that addresses the shortfall and the Senate is in the process of working on a plan, but that time is running out before Congress goes to recess on the 1st of August, leaving states to scramble during the height of construction season.


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