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West Virginia University economists look at traffic safety, roads

Researchers at West Virginia University’s Chambers College of Business and Economics are analyzing the impact of pavement quality on vehicle accidents as part of a federal project called “Transportation Economics in the 21st Century.” (Photo Provided)

MORGANTOWN — Researchers from West Virginia University’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics are revving up a project that will explore road pavement quality and traffic safety, thanks to funding from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“Effects of Pavement Maintenance on Traffic Outcomes” is one of only six proposals receiving funding from NBER. The project is part of a three-year NBER research initiative on “Transportation Economics in the 21st Century.”

“Road maintenance and repaving represents a huge category of expenditure for state and local governments,” said Brad Humphreys, economics professor, who is leading the project. “For example, the 2019 (West Virginia Gov. Jim) Justice administration’s ‘Roads to Prosperity’ initiative promised an additional $1.5 billion in state spending on roads, primarily for resurfacing.”

In this research, Humphreys, along with Ph.D. students Alexander Cardazzi and Margaret Bock, will analyze data on road quality and vehicle accidents from California to investigate the impact of pavement quality on vehicle accidents.

“We use California data because they regularly assess and quantify pavement quality, and because of the wide climactic variation in California,” he said. “Although we use data from California roads, the results will generalize to many other settings, including West Virginia.”

The research links information on the quality of specific road segments to vehicle accident data for the same road segments. It exploits repaving projects, which generate observed changes in pavement quality to uncover the impact of pavement quality on vehicle accidents. It will also assess the impact of temperature, rain, and snow on the rate at which roads deteriorate.

“Roads deteriorate over time from use, primarily from truck use as many engineering studies claim that passenger cars do not contribute to road deterioration,” Humphreys said. “As they deteriorate, roads may pose traffic safety risks, primarily in the form of higher vehicle accident rates. Little is known about the exact relationship between road pavement quality and vehicle accidents.”

The team, which will receive $40,000 in funding from NBER, has been invited to a research conference that will showcase the results of the projects October 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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