Pa. ranks among worst in nation for infrastructure
When it comes to infrastructure needs, Pennsylvania has a lot more than most states. There’s two major cities, mountainous terrain, freezing winter weather and scorching summer heat. The state’s waterways are among the most extensive in the country, and its roadways serve traffic heading up and down the Eastern seaboard and west to the rest of the nation.
With all these challenges in mind, it can hardly be surprising that Pennsylvania is ranked fourth worst in the nation when it comes to the condition of its roads, bridges and dams, according to a recent report from website 24/7 Wall St. titled “States That Are Falling Apart.”
The financial news site indexed ratings for all 50 states across four different metrics to come up with a final score for each.
“About seven out of every 100 miles of roadway nationwide are in poor condition,” the study’s author, Samuel Stebbins, wrote. “(Nine percent) of bridges nationwide are structurally deficient, meaning that they are in need of some repair; and 17 (percent) of dams in the country have a high hazard potential — meaning a functional failure would result in the loss of life.”
Pennsylvania landed in fourth place largely because it didn’t do particularly well in any portion of the study. The best the state could manage was a 15th place in “roads in poor condition,” where the report said 7.4 percent of Pennsylvania’s roads matched that designation.
The state was fifth worst in both percentage of deficient
bridges (18.3 percent) and percentage of “dams at high hazard risk” (53 percent). And, according to the report, Pennsylvania is the ninth highest in state highway spending per driver at $773.
The states that finished worse than Pennsylvania were Rhode Island in first, Hawaii in second and neighboring West Virginia in third. Among other neighboring states, New Jersey was seventh worst, New York 11th, Delaware 12th, Ohio 26th and Maryland 28th.
Florida was judged to have the best infrastructure, with its roads, bridges and dams all ranking in the top 10.
Stebbins, the study’s author, acknowledged that cold weather states like Pennsylvania have a tougher job when it comes to maintaining key infrastructure.
“When asphalt freezes and thaws, it can crack and begin to crumble, losing its integrity,” he wrote. “As a result, road maintenance is required more regularly in states that face harsh winters. Seven of the 10 states with the largest share of roadway in poor condition are in the Northeast, Midwest, and other regions that experience freezing temperatures.”
However, he noted, the age of roads, bridges and dams can be just as important, with many key structures around the country already over a century old.
The study’s roads and bridges data came from a Federal Highway Administration report, while the information on dams derived from the National Inventory of Dams, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Association of Dam Officials. Highway spending numbers came from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Wolf has sought to position himself as aggressively addressing the state’s infrastructure needs. The governor’s office issued a news release Friday highlighting recent steps taken by state government, including the patching of 1,000 miles of state roads in July though his Resurface PA initiative.
But given the poor condition of Pennsylvania’s infrastructure despite being one of the top spenders on roads, some observers have questioned whether the state needs to stop thinking in terms of spending more money and instead focus on using what it does spend more wisely.
The Commonwealth Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of taxpayers in Pennsylvania, noted earlier this summer that a plan to fund infrastructure by taking money from the State Police could create a massive budget hole in the future.
“To provide more funding for infrastructure, the legislature included a provision in the 2016-17 Fiscal Code that begins reducing the amount of money transferred from the Motor License Fund to the Pennsylvania State Police,” wrote Bob Dick, a senior analyst for the foundation. “The reduction would take place over a 10-year period. By the fifth year, lawmakers could be looking at a $150 million hole in the budget, about a 20 percent reduction of the money currently transferred to the state police from the Motor License Fund.”