Ruin or recovery?
Note: The following is an Op-Ed from Pennsylvania AAA Federation, the state organization of the AAA clubs in Pennsylvania, encompassing over 3 million member-motorists)
Pennsylvania's massive highway and bridge system is in serious trouble. As the backbone of our economy, our transportation system moves us to our jobs, our children to their schools, our food and other products to our stores, patients to medical care and much, much more. But, our transportation system is showing the result of decades of underinvestment, and we are rapidly falling further behind in providing adequate resources to maintain our infrastructure and services.
In 2006, a state Transportation Funding and Reform Commission study recommended an additional $1.7 billion be devoted to transportation each year. The study noted that while a significant number of our 122,000 state road miles are in poor condition, with over a third of the 21,000 miles of state-owned secondary roads rated "poor," Pennsylvania also leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges. Pennsylvania's 25,000 state-owned bridges average 50 years old and many have exceeded their design life. The need for additional resources is not about building massive new highways across the Commonwealth. In fact, Pennsylvania has added very little new capacity in the past decade despite the continuing growth of new drivers, new vehicles and more miles traveled on our highways.
State money for our highway and bridge repair comes from the Motor License Fund (MLF) which is mostly financed by state gasoline taxes and vehicle registration and license fees. But, due to more fuel-efficient vehicles, gasoline consumption has steadily dropped since 2004, leading to rapidly declining revenue in the MLF. As of February, revenue was already $24 million below estimates for the fiscal year. The last boost in MLF revenue was a 1997 nickel increase in the state gas tax. While the money available to repair roads and bridges has decreased, the cost of repair materials has greatly increased.
Many of us have experienced the bone-jarring winter potholes that result in expensive repairs to our cars. But state transportation funds, in addition to fixing and smoothing roads and bridges and clearing them of snow and ice, also make lifesaving highway safety improvements, create turning lanes and other fixes that alleviate congestion, and allow us the freedom to travel where we want when we want.
For Pennsylvania to continue with economic recovery and develop a vibrant, world class economy, we must maintain a world class transportation system with adequate resources. Funding the necessary resources will demand tough decisions by our legislators and our citizens.