State's civil engineers give roads a D- in latest 'report card'

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A report card that the state’s civil engineers prepared gave dismal grades to Pennsylvania infrastructure on Wednesday, including a D-minus for roads and a D-plus for bridges.

But there was an undercurrent of optimism at an event to publicize the Report Card for Pennsylvania’‍s Infrastructure, thanks to last fall’s enactment of a major transportation funding bill that will generate up to $2.3 billion per year in new revenue.

“There is good news on the way, beginning right now,” said Dan Cessna, district executive for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The report card, which the state sections of the American Society of Civil Engineers issues every four years, graded 16 categories of infrastructure, assigning an overall grade of C-minus. That was a minor improvement from the 2010 report, which gave the state a D-plus.

“Infrastructure is at the foundation of our economy,” said Ralph Gilbert, past president of the society’‍s Pittsburgh section. “In order for Pennsylvania to create a better future for itself, it must have better infrastructure. Modernizing Pennsylvania’s infrastructure will drive the economy, keep our families safe and save us some money.

The cost only increases as we delay action.”

Mr. Cessna said the state will spend another $700 million and do 250 more highway and bridge projects this year thanks to Act 89, the funding measure that the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett approved last year. It expects to improve 10,000 miles of roads and 7,000 bridges in coming years. “That should have a huge impact on the grades,” he said.

Although PennDOT has reduced the number of bridges rated structurally deficient from a high of 5,900 to 4,147 in recent years, it still leads the nation in deficient bridges. “Our work ahead of us is huge,” Mr. Cessna said.

Bill Flanagan, senior vice president at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said, “We’‍ve heard again and again from our member organizations about difficulties in moving goods and getting people to work ... This issue has been front and center among our members for a number of years.”

About 44 percent of the state’s roads were in fair or poor condition as of 2012, the report said, citing PennDOT data. Traffic congestion costs a typical driver 182 hours of wasted time and 86 gallons of wasted fuel, with the overall cost to drivers estimated at $3.7 billion annually.

While giving the state’s public transit a D, the report noted that Act 89 “provides much needed funding stability for transit systems across the state to operate, improve service and replace aging equipment with more efficient models.”

Grading the state’s wastewater systems at D-minus, the engineers said Pennsylvania has the largest number of overflows from combined storm and sanitary sewers in the nation.

Funding for improvements is less than 25 percent of what is needed, they said.

Other grades: dams, C-minus; drinking water, D; energy, C; freight rail, B; levees, C-minus; schools, C-minus; inland waterways, D-plus; hazardous waste, B-minus; parks, B-minus; ports, C-plus; solid waste, C-plus; and stormwater, D-plus.

More than 60 engineers helped to compile the report, said Greg Scott, chairman of the Pittsburgh section’‍s report card committee.

It can be viewed at

Mr. Cessna said it is important that Congress continue to fund transportation at or above current levels.

The federal law authorizing transportation projects expires at the end of September, and lawmakers have been unable to agree on whether to pass a short-term extension or long-term replacement, and they remain at odds over funding levels.

“Without a robust federal transportation bill, the positive impacts of Act 89 and other state resources will not be able to be realized,” he said.

On Wednesday in Washington, a key player in transportation legislation said the nation was “on the verge of a transportation government shutdown.”

“We are facing a mayday situation, and I am here to send an SOS call to Congress and the American people,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Federal payments to states could be slowed as soon as next month because the Highway Trust Fund is nearly out of money, she said. or 412-263-1868. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

First Published June 25, 2014 12:00 AM

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