The House Democratic Policy Committee focused on transportation funding throughout the state at their transportation hearing on Thursday morning. The hearing was held at the America on Wheels Museum in Allentown and included representatives from various districts across the state.
“We haven’t invested the amount of money that we should in transportation,” commented Representative Mike Schlossberg. “Thirteen percent of Pennsylvania’s roads are in poor condition,” he continued.
The Committee focused on how to fund reconstructing roads and bridges throughout the Commonwealth. According to Schlossberg, a bridge in Pennsylvania is meant to last approximately 50 years and the current average age of a bridge in the state is 51 years old.
According to Pete Terry, Chairman of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Committee, when the 2010 Report Card for Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure was distributed by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the bridges throughout the Lehigh Valley came back with a “C” grade. Terry mentioned this implied that one in four bridges in the area were in poor condition.
“When I look at bridges, if you are not an ‘A’ or a ‘B’, you’ve got a problem,” stated Terry.
As a result of years of inadequate funding, thousands of bridges in Pennsylvania have been categorized at “structurally deficient.” Lehigh County has 350 bridges in total and 74 of those bridges are structurally deficient, while Northampton County has 311 bridges in total with 63 of those bridges being structurally deficient.
Along with inadequate bridges, roads throughout the state are also well below par when it comes to infrastructure and safety.
“People expect to move safely and efficiently throughout the state,” commented Gerry Fry, Vice President of Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson.
According to Larry Wiersch, CEO of Cetronia Ambulance Corps, many of the incidents that happen on roads are a direct result of the lack of infrastructure. Wiersch continued by stating that many emergency services, such as Police, Fire, and Ambulance Corps, are “concerned about the ability to get to the public in a time of need.”
“The inability to get across town due to congestion is just unacceptable,” stated Wiersch.
According to a presentation given by Bradley Mallory, Executive Deputy Secretary for Administration, Governor Corbett’s five year Transportation Plan anticipates investing approximately $70 million in local roads and bridges and $310 million in state roads and bridges by the end of the first year.
By the end of the fifth year of the Transportation Plan, an estimated $200 million will have been invested in local roads and bridges, while $1.2 billion will have been invested in state roads and bridges.
These numbers are based on the current wholesale value of gas, a strategic decrease of the flat tax, and uncapping a portion of the Oil Company Franchise Tax over the course of five years.
“I would argue that this transportation plan is critical for Pennsylvania,” stated Mallory.
According to District 5 Executive Michael Rebert, PE, the state should be reconstructing 500 miles of road per year to keep them efficient and safe, but due to the lack of funding for road maintenance, Pennsylvania is only able to reconstruct approximately 25 miles of road per year.
“The funding is just no there on the maintenance side,” stated Rebert.
“If we don’t start investing now, we run the risk of becoming less competitive,” stated Schlossberg. “If we invest in transportation now, we can add [approximately] 100,000 new jobs,” he continued.
According to Representative Steve Samuelson, the next step to solving the transportation funding issue is to have thorough bipartisan conversations. The Committee members plan to take the information given at the hearing to these bipartisan conversations to help find a successful solution to the transportation problem in Pennsylvania.