Pa. at Critical Intersection: Pass road funding now

Pennsylvania’s road and bridge infrastructure finds itself at a critical intersection on the eve of what could be a historic vote by the state legislature to finally pass badly needed transportation funding.

With road and bridge funding stagnating, 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 can no longer continue to fix and maintain the state’s roads and bridges without an additional infusion of dollars.

It may cost all of us a couple more dollars per year, but it will cost even more to do nothing. And 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 response and school buses, roadways will be more congested, commerce will be stifled and Pennsylvanians will be less safe in trying to get from Point A to Point B. This all translates into a noticeable decrease in our quality of life.

On the other hand, additional funding will enable the caretakers of our roads and bridges to address long overdue maintenance needs and safety issues. It will also create thousands of Pennsylvanian construction jobs.

Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges are crumbling, and citizens are paying the price — both literally and figuratively.

Literally, because a lack of adequate funding for road maintenance and repairs means taxpayers either live with the deteriorating infrastructure or they must fight for stable funding. The proposed creative solution before the legislature now puts the bulk of the burden on the prosperous oil companies by lifting the artificial cap on the oil franchise tax. Inaction by the legislature, however, will likely result in increased local property taxes.

And figuratively, because the aging infrastructure causes inconvenience (at best) and endangers lives (at worst) through long, costly and sometimes dangerous detours.

In many of the state’s townships of the second class, road projects account for the majority 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.

That means paying a road crew, purchasing and maintaining equipment, and covering the skyrocketing cost of materials such as salt, antiskid, steel, concrete and oil-based products, such as asphalt.

It all adds up quickly, and when residents don’t want to pay higher taxes, the budget can only be stretched so far. There’s no magic to it: Townships either have to cut services or raise property taxes.

Clearly, this current 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 of that: closed bridges, long detours, patch-worked roads, and in some cases, higher property taxes.

A township supervisor from Lancaster County recently put it all in perspective when sharing 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 the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. With a broad background in local and state government, Sanko oversees an organization that is the primary advocate for the commonwealth’s 1,455 townships of the second class, home to 5.4 million Pennsylvanians.