MOUNDSVILLE - Amid potholes, edge drops and hairpin turns, driving on rural roads in West Virginia is more dangerous than it is in all but two other states, according to a new study from a national transportation research group.
The data - released by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization TRIP - also show that one is nearly three times more likely to suffer a fatal traffic accident on Mountain State rural roads than on other roads throughout the state.
"The topography of West Virginia is a constant challenge," said Carrie Bly, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Transportation, which oversees the Division of Highways. "On a rural route in the mountains, the chance for a fatality is, unfortunately, relatively high."
The TRIP report states that in 2012, the fatality rate on West Virginia rural roads was 2.8 per 100 million miles of travel, compared to the relatively low 0.99 deaths per 100 million miles traveled on other roads.
Further, the TRIP report finds that 33 percent of all rural Mountain State roads are rated in poor condition, which is the third highest rate of all 50 states. Also, 13 percent of rural bridges in the state are considered deficient.
"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 the West Virginians for Better Transportation organization. "However, long-term funding plans - on the federal and state levels - are needed to address the current problems and to meet future expansion projects."
Bly said the state features about 36,000 miles of roadways, but only about 1,800 miles of this is on the relatively wide, flat and straight interstate highways and U.S. routes.
The DOH is responsible for maintaining virtually all roads in West Virginia. By comparison, the Ohio Department of Transportation maintains state roads, such as Ohio 7; counties in Ohio repair county roads, such as Belmont County Road 4; and townships in Ohio maintain township roads, such as Ebberts Road near St. Clairsville.
"We have a lot of roads to take care of," Bly said. "We are one of only four states that take care of all the roads. The counties do not take care of any of it. The cost of fixing roads is not going down. Something needs to change. It does come down to a funding issue."
Bly said most of the funding used for road improvement comes from gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees. She said collections from these taxes are not keeping up with the costs associated with road repair.
Dave Knuth, executive director of Marshall County Chamber of Commerce, said state officials need to find a way to get more funding to the counties plagued by road problems.
"Starting in Charleston, there needs to a way to get some of that money back to Marshall County for roads," he said.
The TRIP report finds the fatality rate on Ohio rural roads at 2.15 for every 100 million miles of travel, compared to 0.63 per 100 million miles on other routes. The rural road death rate for Pennsylvania is 2.52 for 100 million miles, compared to 0.91 for the same amount of travel on other roads.
"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," TRIP Executive Director Will Wilkins added. "The nation's rural roads provide crucial links from farm to market, move manufactured and energy products, and provide access to countless tourist and recreational destinations."