Posted: November 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm
October 28th, 2012
By Ilyssa Miroshnik, Michael Ploger, and Ian Grimley
Morgantown, W. Va. – Every year, Robert Hayes needs a new set of tires for his car because of the sorry condition of the roads in Morgantown. Hayes, a former West Virginia University student who now works two part-time jobs, still lives in Morgantown. He says roads near his house on Dallas Street are filled with potholes and gravel, and there are cracks in the pavement everywhere.
“My car’s in bad shape because of it,” he says.
Many other Morgantown residents share Hayes’ frustration. The city’s roads are an embarrassing source of complaints from many residents and university students alike. They are known for being narrow, hilly, and filled with gravelly potholes and uneven pavement that can damage cars. The sidewalks are also badly in need of repair; on some city streets, sidewalks are nonexistent and in other places, they have crumbled into gravelly uneven pits that are difficult for pedestrians to navigate.
Even the roads in historic South Park, across the Walnut and Pleasant Street bridges from downtown, are a mess, he says.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, residents in Morgantown are having even more trouble getting around. And with winter weather conditions already here, road conditions will only worsen, residents say.
Morgantown City Manager Terrence Moore blames the sorry state of his city’s roads on the university’s explosive growth in recent years and the heavy traffic that results from such congestion. Since the 1960s, the university’s student population has grown from 12,000 to over 30,000.
“Quite frankly, Morgantown was never plated to accommodate the level of growth and the size of the student population that West Virginia University has,” Moore says. “More trucks, more traffic, more activity across the road infrastructure causes the roads to be challenged.”
Moore also says that many of Morgantown’s major thoroughfares are under the jurisdiction of West Virginia state’s Division of Highways, including High, Walnut and Pleasant Streets, Patteson Drive and parts of University Avenue.
As a result, he says, the city of Morgantown’s Department of Public works and Engineering has to work together with the state to identify and fix “problem areas” on many of the city’s roads.
The property tax rate for the city of Morgantown is listed at 2.5 percent. This is low when compared to other similarly sized university towns, such as Charlottesville, Virginia’s property tax rate, which is 4.5 percent.
According to the city’s budget, tax revenues slated for “public works” has hovered just around the $4.5 million mark for the last four years. Yet only $300,000 was spent by the city on paving roads this past year, according to Terry Hough, Morgantown’s director of public works.
“We ended up with about ten areas being repaired,” she says.
For the next fiscal year, the public works budget is projected to be slightly over $4 million. Approximately $364,000 of this revenue is slated for street paving.
Moore says that taxes from the city’s lucrative liquor sales in its stores and downtown bars could be used to fund road repair. But they are primarily used to fund police and fire protection, he says.
Road problems, of course, are not confined to just Morgantown. They also exist in other towns as well. Huntington, West Virginia, home of Marshall University, also has several roads that are in terrible shape.
“They are pothole-ridden and very bumpy,” said Christina Johnson, a student at Marshall. However, even Johnson, who has visited WVU many times, says Morgantown’s roads are worse.
Hayes thinks the city could do a much better job of road repair with the tax revenues it collects.
“I want to drive through Morgantown and not have to worry about my car being messed up,” he says.