Pa. ranks among worst in na­tion for in­fra­struc­ture

The Review - - FRONT PAGE - By Dave Le­mery Watch­

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.”

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