By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
Like the song “Country Roads” says, they may take us home, but getting there can sometimes be a bumpy ride.
West Virginia roads are in horrible shape; all motorists traveling them would agree. Mountain Mama’s tens of thousands or more potholes (Who could possibly count them?) – from individual “surprise” ones to a one-right-after-another grouping – riddle the roadways and cause millions of dollars in both road repair and personal vehicle repair costs for motorists.
Area auto repair shop workers say they’re seeing the carnage done to vehicles every day, and they’ve seen an increase in the past couple of years.
Joel Baird Sr., manager of Glotfelty Tire Center (formerly known as Bridgeport Tire & Supply) in Bridgeport, states the company serves two to three customers daily because of pothole damage. “It’s been more prevalent the past year or so,” he said. “It’s been almost a daily problem for quite awhile.”
Phil Wolford, manager at Appalachian Tire in Bridgeport, said they’ve also experienced more customer visits due to pothole-damaged vehicles in recent times. “About the last two years, compared to previous years, there’s definitely been an increase in tire and wheel and other vehicle damage due to road damage,” Wolford stated.
Baird explained that three things happen when you hit a pothole, and none are good: “You blow your tire; the sidewall separates; or you not only damage the tire but the wheel itself.”
Wolford agreed and added that other vehicle parts can be damaged by hitting a pothole, such as hubcaps, axles, shocks and struts, tie rods and ball joints. “It’s hard on everything!” he exclaimed.
Both said the reason they believe there’s been an increase in pothole damage to vehicles is because of inclement weather conditions the past two years and a lack of funding to keep up with the road damage caused by it. Facts prove they’re right.
The state has experienced some major precipitation the past two years with more-than-average numbers and greater severity of snowfalls and rain. Longer cold temperatures in winter have also contributed to road damage. And after the damage, repairs are needed. West Virginia, like all states, depends on federal funds, along with their state funds, for road and bridge repair. States need the federal dollars to bring their roadway infrastructures up to a safe and reasonable standard.
Since 2009, the U.S. Congress has passed 34 short extensions for funding highways, rather than passing the traditional six-year funding plan. (Federal lawmakers say they will finally do that by next month.) But having operated with just the temporary funding, it’s been almost impossible for states to plan for and execute major highway projects.
West Virginia has an even higher burden with road repair. The state maintains the sixth largest highway system in the country because it does not have a county road system like most states. West Virginia is responsible for all primary and secondary roads.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin recently put another $82 million toward roadwork. Now the state Department of Highways will, this year, spend an all-time high with more than $300 million going to paving and repairs. More than half of that ($162 million) will go toward state-funded projects, like the pothole repairs. ($59 million will go toward Interstate repairs.)
In a speech to the West Virginia Press Association Aug. 14, Gov. Tomblin addressed the issue: “This was an aggressive effort, but we all know that there’s still much to be done,” he said. “But let me be clear. Regardless of any additional funding or appropriations that we may make, all states, including ours, count on federal funds to assist with both new construction and road maintenance.”
In his speech, Tomblin mentioned the statewide social media campaign underway that addresses the state’s bad road conditions – potholes, being a major player of the problem. The campaign – #FTDR (“Fix the D@!m Roads) is a grassroots awareness effort.
In addition to the funding concerns, the state’s geography plays a big part in keeping up with road repair.. The mountains, though they’re beloved for their beauty and plant and animal life, make building and maintaining roads more expensive.
Wolford said that though potholes may be inevitable, his advice to motorists is to “maintain their vehicles” to help keep everyone safe on the road. He said one thing they can do to help stay safe is to regularly check their tires’ air pressure with a pressure gauge. “Low air pressure, which is the largest factor in tire wear and tear, causes the tire to run hotter and wear faster.”
And because of the bad road conditions, he said, “It’s definitely more critical to have the vehicle’s alignment checked more frequently.”
Wolford also suggests motorists always do a walk-around to visually check for a low tire or damage.
Wolford noted that while they appreciate all their business, including the added business the potholes provide, they just want their customers to be OK.
“It’s job security for us,” he said grinning, but then got serious. “But it’s all about safety. We want our customers to be safe. Try to avoid the potholes.”