WV GETS A SOLID 'D' WITH INFRASTRUCTURE - Roads, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water Systems And Wastewater Plants "Are In Poor Condition

West Virginia's and its roads, bridges, dams, drinking water systems and wastewater plants "are in poor condition," with many elements approaching the end of their service life," according to an infrastructure report card released on Wednesday by the state chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

According to the report, 21% of the state's 7,291 bridges are rated as structurally deficient, accounting for the second-highest deficiency rate in the nation, and placing the state far above the national structural deficiency rate of 7%.

"Being structurally deficient doesn't necessarily mean that a bridge is unsafe to cross," said Rodney Holbert, past president of the West Virginia Section of the ASCE. "It means that one or more component of a bridge is in need of repair or replacement."

Curing the structural deficiencies of West Virginia bridges would cost an estimated $2.9 billion, according to a report by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association cited in the ASCE report card.

West Virginia's roads received similar ratings, with 29% of the state's major roads deemed to be in poor condition, compared with 21% nationally. The state spent $315 million repairing its roads in 2018, when total road repair and preservation costs were estimated at $1.6 billion, according to the report.

West Virginia is one of only four states that have incorporated former county road networks into state road systems. That's one reason that West Virginia, despite its relatively small population, operates the sixth largest state highway system in the nation.

While nearly 75% of West Virginia's dams are classified as having a high potential for major damage or loss of life in the event of a failure, nearly 90% of those dams are rated to be in fair or satisfactory condition — a rate 3% higher than the national average. But, according to the report, deferred maintenance has created funding needs of more than $900 million, made more difficult to meet due to the fact that nearly half of the nearly 600 dams in the state are privately owned.

Some West Virginia drinking water systems lose more than half of their treated water through leaks in the distribution system, requiring investments in water lines and detection gear to solve. An estimated $302 million in drinking water infrastructure is needed to meet current deficiencies, according to the report card.

Many of the state's wastewater systems barely have the means to do much more than maintain existing service and make immediate repairs, let alone make improvements to extend the life of the systems' infrastructure. As of this year, 59 sewer systems across the state needed a total of $1.2 billion in repairs in order to meet state and federal pollution standards.

The state's dwindling population creates a dwindling customer base, adding to the difficulty of covering maintenance costs for both water and sewer systems.

While civil engineers issued an overall grade of 'D' to the five infrastructure categories, they also recognized several funding improvements that have been made to correct deficiencies in recent years. They include the Roads to Prosperity Program, which provides for $2.8 billion in capital projects over four years, and the increase in the state's motor fuels tax to 35.7 cents per gallon.

The report recommends the creation of a bond program similar to that funding the Roads to Prosperity program to fund water and sewer system needs, and adding a $500 million annual increase to the state highways budget.