It has been more than 16 years since Pennsylvania enacted a meaningful transportation funding program and two years since a special task force recommended comprehensive funding options. Yet, our transportation network remains in dire need of long-overdue maintenance, construction and safety upgrades.
Pennsylvania has more structurally deficient bridges — nearly 4,400 — than any other state in the nation, and 23 percent of its 44,000 miles of state-owned roads are in poor condition.
The situation will get worse if we do not take action. That’s why the Senate last month overwhelmingly passed legislation to increase Pennsylvania’s annual transportation investment by $2.5 billion.
Senate Bill 1 was a bipartisan effort by senators from rural, suburban and urban communities to address a growing concern about the declining condition of our transportation infrastructure.
The funding package, which now awaits action in the House of Representatives, would enable the state to repair unsafe roads and aging bridges, undertake construction projects in congested areas and improve our ports, rail lines and mass transit systems.
The cost of further delay is staggering.
A recent report by a national transportation group found that the poor state of Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges costs state residents $9.4 billion annually in vehicle operating costs, congestion delays and traffic accidents. Those statistics make it clear that state residents are paying the price for our deteriorating infrastructure.
Our economy will also suffer. MSNBC ranked Pennsylvania 30th out of 50 states in 2012 when it considered which states are the best for doing business. Of the 10 categories used in scoring each state, Pennsylvania ranked 35th out 50 for infrastructure and transportation. In addition, it is estimated Pennsylvania will see 12,000 private sector layoffs in transportation-related sectors.
Public safety is another major concern. If we do nothing, the number of miles of state-owned highways rated in poor condition will increase from 9,000 to 17,000 by 2017 — that is an 89 percent increase.
Between 4,000 to 5,000 additional state-owned bridges will be weight-restricted, causing 31,000 children traveling in school buses to spend more time on poorer quality roads due to closed or posted bridges. Ambulances, fire trucks, and other emergency services personnel will travel greater distances due to posted or closed bridges, losing critical lifesaving minutes.
And as transit agencies cut service, Pennsylvania’s already overburdened highway system will see an increase in traffic, and seniors and the disabled will lose their link to medical and other life-sustaining services.
Our roads and bridges continue to crumble, our mass transit systems lack the funds for expansion needed to meet continued demand, and our railways, airports and ports struggle to be economic generators for the 21st century.
Senate Bill 1 will enable us to begin investing in our transportation network now — rather than continuing to put off much-needed maintenance, construction and safety upgrades that are crucial our state’s future. The time to act is now.