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Transportation Improvements Key for Future of WV

September 14, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - If rural West Virginians are going to thrive, improvements in transportation have to be part of the picture, according to the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL).

Rural people often face transportation issues that others don't, says Billy Altom, APRIL's executive director. Without a way to get around, he says, the negative effects can pile up like dominoes.

"It's almost a snowball effect sometimes, whenever you look at, 'Well if I lose my ride, then the next, I've lost my job, I've lost my house,' and then you wind up in dire straits."

Because of its geography, West Virginia's economic development has traditionally been hampered by poor transportation. But Dave Efaw, secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council says the state could benefit, both directly and indirectly, from additional investments.

"It all starts with infrastructure, both ways. Bring business and construction jobs. These things fuel the economy, and West Virginia stands to grow substantially if this all goes in the right direction."

Public transportation often lags in rural areas, Altom says. While there may be some options for the rural elderly, poor and people with disabilities, he says, the systems are badly fragmented and in need of better coordination.

"It's more of a hodgepodge of different little providers. You may have Human Services that are providing here, another nonprofit is doing it here. They're not coordinated - yet the monies come from, basically, the same pot of money."

Altom says only 6 percent of current federal transit funding supports rural areas, where 25 percent of Americans live.

The White House wants to increase the budget for transportation infrastructure as a way to spark job growth. Republicans in Congress have said they would like to cut funding to reduce the deficit.

More information on APRIL is online at april-rural.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV