Transportation challenges 'enormous'

Study suggests bad roads cost drivers more than maintaining good ones

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Pennsylvanians are spending more to have lousy roads and bridges than it would cost to keep them in good condition, a new study suggests.

The study, released Tuesday by TRIP, a national transportation research group, estimated that poor roads, congestion and crashes cost the average Pittsburgh driver $892 per year in damage, maintenance costs and time lost to traffic delays.

Inadequate capacity and rough roads cost Pennsylvania drivers $8.2 billion annually -- far more than the roughly $1.5 billion the state spends in a typical year on highway and bridge projects, and more than the $3.5 billion a year that a state advisory panel said was necessary to catch up on road and bridge repairs.

"Pennsylvania faces enormous challenges in addressing its transportation needs. Deteriorated road and bridge conditions and mounting traffic congestion threaten to impede economic activity and diminish quality of life. The state's public transportation systems are also in disrepair and must be modernized and expanded," said the report, titled "Future Mobility in Pennsylvania."

Drawing on Federal Highway Administration data, the report said that 58 percent of the Pittsburgh area's major roads were in poor or mediocre condition; 21 percent in fair shape; and 21 percent in good condition.

The report did not offer options for raising additional money for transportation spending. "That's for the elected officials and the public here in Pennsylvania to decide," said Frank Moretti, director of policy and research for TRIP, a nonprofit organization sponsored by highway construction interests and insurance companies.

The report can be viewed at http://www.tripnet.org/research.htm.

Several recent studies have concluded that federal and state governments aren't spending enough to maintain and improve transportation infrastructure.

The Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee said this year that state spending was $3.5 billion a year short of what is needed to maintain the transportation network.

The American Society of Civil Engineers in May issued its 2010 Report Card for Pennsylvania's Infrastructure, giving the state a D-plus. It urged adoption of a dedicated, stable, long-term funding source for transportation improvements.

Two congressional commissions have recommended increasing the federal gasoline tax to help the chronically underfunded Highway Trust Fund.

Gov. Ed Rendell has suggested a mixture of state gas tax and vehicle fee increases to adjust them for the inflation that has occurred since they were last raised. The state gas tax and registration fee haven't changed since 1997 and are flat taxes that lose value over time because of inflation.

All of those studies and recommendations have met with inaction from lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg.

"Given the recent economic downturn, it's been hard for people to look ahead," Mr. Moretti said.

A healthy transportation network is vital to economic recovery and growth, he said.

China currently spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure, compared with less than 2 percent for the U.S., he said. "That's a warning signal."

One provocative aspect of Tuesday's report was the notion that bad roads cost more than good ones.

"People ask how are you going to pay for it," Mr. Moretti said. "The reality is that you are already paying for it."

After the American Society of Civil Engineers report came out in May, Karl P. Sieg, vice president of the Pittsburgh section, noted that a 25-cent-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax would cost $150 for a driver who went 15,000 miles a year at 25 miles per gallon.

"In other words, for less than half what we pay each year to repair the damage to our cars caused by worn-out roads, we could fix the roads," he said. "Kind of a no-brainer, isn't it?"


Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit "The Roundabout," the Post-Gazette's transportation blog, at post-gazette.com.


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