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Address West Virginia’s Crumbling Infrastructure

Over the past year, we have seen an emphasis on the repair of our roads in West Virginia. This includes interstate highways, primary roads, secondary roads, as well as local roads.

A lot of the funding for these projects has come from recent passage of the “Roads to Prosperity” act and subsequent sale of the road bonds. The funds raised by the bond sales, however, are not enough to cover the needed highway repairs and improvements in our state. The condition our roads were in was the result of years of neglect with respect to keeping up with needed maintenance.

Unfortunately, our roads are just the tip of the iceberg with respect to our overall infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issues a “report card” each year on the condition of our infrastructure. The report gives the nation as a whole a grade of “D-plus.” West Virginia received a grade of “D-minus.” Here is what the report said about West Virginia:

While the nation’s infrastructure earned a “D-plus” in the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, West Virginia faces infrastructure challenges of its own. For example, driving on roads in need of repair in West Virginia costs each driver $515 per year, and 17.3% of the state’s bridges are rated structurally deficient.

Drinking water needs in West Virginia are an estimated $1.16 billion, and wastewater needs total $3.26 billion. Also, 285 dams are considered to be high-hazard potential. The state’s schools have an estimated capital expenditure gap of $265 million.

This deteriorating infrastructure impedes West Virginia’s ability to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. Success in a 21st century economy requires serious, sustained leadership on infrastructure investment at all levels of government. Delaying these investments only escalates the cost and risks of an aging infrastructure system, an option that the country, West Virginia, and families can no longer afford.

As you can see from the engineering society’s remarks, we have a long way to go to reach a passing grade. There are 7,228 bridges in West Virginia and 1,372 are considered structurally deficient. We are working on this problem; however, there is much that needs to be done.

We have 38,854 miles of public roads in West Virginia and 31% are considered to be in poor condition. This includes all roads in the state including city streets. The repairs to the I-70 bridges in Ohio County are an example of the high cost associated with bridge repair. You can see the complete report card at infrastructurereportcard.org.

Of the 10 states represented at a recent Southern Legislative Conference, almost all are facing the same problems we have in West Virginia. Some face problems with traffic density due to growth while others lack the funding to address the problem.

We see the condition of our highways. However, hidden problems within our water and sewer systems are just as much a danger to our lifestyle. How will we handle a major water crisis if our systems fail? Look at the problem that occurred when the chemical spill shut down the West Virginia Water Company, which serves the city of Charleston and surrounding communities.

One of the statements in the report showed the importance of our infrastructure: “This deteriorating infrastructure impedes West Virginia’s ability to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. Success in a 21st century economy requires serious, sustained leadership on infrastructure investment at all levels of government.”

For too long, we have looked to others to solve our infrastructure problems. Here in the upper Ohio valley, as well as all of West Virginia, we are in a position to see growth due to the development of the natural gas industry and the potential return of the petrochemical industry to our state. At all levels of government we need to look to the future and plan.

We can no longer wait for someone else to solve our infrastructure problems.

Clements, of New Martinsville, represents the Second Senatorial District in the West Virginia State Senate. For a number of years, he served as executive director of the Route 2-Interstate 68 Authority.

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