West Virginia: Take Me Home, Country Roads – Just Don’t Drive on Them

by Ben Davis

Last Friday, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill to make John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” one of the state’s official songs. The1971 hit, with its “misty taste of moonshine” and “life… older than the trees” paints an idyllic, picturesque image of rustic West Virginia.

Before heading to the Blue Ridge Mountains or the Shenandoah River, you had better make sure your car has good shock absorbers. The state has some of the worst streets and highways in the country – some West Virginia streets are marked by potholes every 20 feet.

More than half of West Virginia’s rural roads are in less than good condition, according to the data from the Office of Highway Policy Information, while 952 of West Virginia’s 7,093 bridges are structurally deficient, according to the National Bridge Inventory. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), as explained in Road Work Ahead, estimates that West Virginia’s poor road conditions cost motorist an average of $280 in repairs and operating costs.

So why then did West Virginia sink 73 percent of state transportation spending into building new roads and expanding old ones between 2009 and 2011, leaving only 27 percent for maintenance and repair?

That is the kind of question raised by a new report from Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense. The report provides a state-by-state look at how states spend their highway money and finds that many seem willing to let some roads remain in poor shape even while building brand-new ones that, if current trends toward reduced driving continue, may not get very much use.

West Virginia’s vote last week was a public statement that the state cherishes John Denver’s country roads. Might West Virginia’s government now take steps to maintain and protect them?