Ensure roads are clear

Worn-out dump trucks can be patched up and pushed only so long before they break down beyond repair. During most of the year, that is not a serious challenge for local and state highway agencies.

But during the winter months, lack of a few trucks normally available to treat snow- and ice-covered highways can be serious business. It can put travelers at risk.

During the recent cold snap, Belmont County’s highways department had to make do without three dump trucks that have been available in the past. County Engineer Terry Lively blamed “maintenance issues.”

“They’re old trucks. They’re worn out. … We can’t afford to buy new trucks and we’re trying to keep these old trucks on the road and three of them broke down during this relatively minor storm,” he explained.

Lively added that his department was able to cope with the problem. But, he worried aloud to a reporter, a really severe storm might mean substantial delays in clearing snow and ice from roads and bridges.

Some of his trucks “are well beyond their expected lifespan,” at 20 years old and with about 200,000 miles on them, the engineer noted.

Money is the problem, of course. Funding for his department comes from gasoline taxes and license plate fees, Lively said. Revenue from those sources is down.

State legislators should be looking at the problem. Though no one likes a tax increase, it may be necessary in order to ensure both local and state highways and bridges are maintained adequately. The state’s excise tax on gasoline, at 28 cents per gallon, has not been increased since 6 additional cents were phased in from 2003-05.

It is impractical for the county to maintain both employees and equipment to cope with a worst-case scenario. However, some edge against really bad weather — not to mention ensuring equipment is reliable during normal circumstances — is important.

As matters stand, it appears the Belmont County highway department may not have that capability.