Pennsylvania’s road and bridge infrastructure finds itself at a critical intersection as a historic vote by the state Legislature nears to finally pass badly needed transportation funding. With road and bridge funding stagnant for years and labor, material and construction costs rising, the major caretakers of the state’s transportation network — PennDOT and townships — have reached the breaking point. They no longer can continue to fix and maintain the state’s roads and bridges without an additional infusion of money.
This may cost all of us a couple more dollars per year, but it would cost even more to do nothing. Harrisburg can no longer afford to put off this decision that is so vital to the state’s economy and public safety. The moment of truth has arrived, and our General Assembly must step up to the plate to do what is right and necessary before our transportation network suffers even more.
Without additional funding, roads will continue to deteriorate, more bridges will be weight-restricted, time-consuming detours will delay emergency responses and school buses, roadways will be more congested, commerce will be stifled, and Pennsylvanians will be less safe as they travel from Point A to Point B. This all will translate into a noticeable decrease in our quality of life.
On the other hand, additional funding would enable the caretakers of our roads and bridges to address long-overdue maintenance needs and safety issues. And it would create thousands of Pennsylvanian construction jobs.
As Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges crumble, our citizens are paying the price. The creative solution being proposed to the Legislature would put the bulk of the burden on prosperous oil companies by lifting the artificial cap on the oil franchise tax. Inaction likely would result in increased local property taxes.
In many townships, road projects account for most of the annual budget. Municipalities are responsible for maintaining 77,000 miles of the 117,000 miles of roads in the state. They must find the funds to build, pave and repair roads; maintain bridges; remove snow and ice; maintain traffic signs and signals on local and state roads; and minimize dust on dirt and gravel roads. This means paying road crews, purchasing and maintaining equipment, and covering the skyrocketing cost of materials such as salt, steel, concrete and oil-based products, such as asphalt.
The costs add up quickly, and when residents don’t want to pay higher taxes, the budget can be stretched only so far. There’s no magic to it: Townships either have to cut services or raise property taxes.
Today’s shortfall in funding is a no-win situation for anyone who has to take care of the commonwealth’s roads and bridges. The dollars don’t go as far as they once did, and when you’ve got less, what choice do you have? You have to do less, and Pennsylvanians are starting to see the negative consequences: closed bridges, long detours, patchwork roads and, in some cases, higher property taxes.
A supervisor from Lancaster County recently shared a story about two weight-restricted bridges in his township: “What’s happening is that truckers are weaving through a maze of structurally deficient bridges. That costs money, and you know what’s going to happen next? Those costs are going to be passed on to consumers. And guess what? You’ve still got a structurally deficient bridge.”
Deteriorating roads and bridges are putting the public in danger, wasting time and money with detours and delays and eroding the commonwealth’s ability to attract and retain businesses.
Pennsylvania’s Legislature has reached a critical intersection: Pass this road and bridge funding now or wait another couple of years and see our infrastructure deteriorate even more, requiring even greater amounts of money to fix it.
We call on our state legislators to do the right thing. Don’t stall out at this intersection. Move forward and pass comprehensive transportation funding now!
David M. Sanko is executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (www.psats.org).