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The good roads movement of the 1920s attacked one of West Virginia’s perennial problems, the inadequacy of its roads. The first motor vehicles appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, but the rugged terrain and muddy roads slowed the advance of the automotive age. In 1919, under the slogan ‘‘Help Pull West Virginia Out of the Mud,’’ the West Virginia Good Roads Federation campaigned for an amendment to the constitution that would empower the legislature to undertake road improvements.

Voters approved the good roads amendment in 1920 and another in 1928, and road building became a major activity of state government. The good roads amendments provided for the issuance of $85 million in state bonds to finance the construction and maintenance of a state road system that would at least connect the various county seats of the state. The legislature imposed gasoline taxes to pay interest and principal on the bonds. Some federal and county funds also went into road improvement.

The state road system grew rapidly. In 1921, the legislature expanded the state road commission to three members and classified all roads as state or county roads. At that time no two of the larger cities of the state were connected by an improved road of any kind, but by 1927 all of the larger cities were linked by hard-surface roads. By 1929, all but one of the 55 county seats had at least one hard-surfaced outlet to improved roads connecting with the rest of the state. Between 1921 and 1933, some $128 million was expended on the road system, and the spread of cars, trucks, and buses and related enterprises transformed the state’s economy and society.

The good roads movement achieved important results, but haste in building meant that much of the work later had to be redesigned and rebuilt. Routes were sometimes determined by political logrolling, and state road employment became a major item of political spoils. In the Depression, poor roads continued to plague West Virginia as the state assumed control of all roads but had inadequate funds to maintain or expand the system.

This Article was written by Jerry Bruce Thomas

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Sources

Ambler, Charles H. & Festus P. Summers. West Virginia: The Mountain State. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1958.

Thomas, Jerry Bruce. An Appalachian New Deal: West Virginia in the Great Depression. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.

Cite This Article

Thomas, Jerry Bruce "Good Roads Movement." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 10 February 2012. Web. 13 December 2018.

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