In what can only be described as arriving incredibly late to a crucial government problem, Pennsylvania’s Governor is now bemoaning the condition of the state’s bridges. Yesterday (Aug 5), the Governor was quoted as saying, " If we don’t do something about finding the money to do repairs of our roads, our bridges, our highways, our mass transit systems, they’re either going to become more and more dangerous or we’re going to have stop traffic from going over these bridges."
"These bridges" is a reference to the 5,646 bridges in the state that have been deemed structurally deficient. The deplorable condition of roads and bridges in Pennsylvania is a long standing problem that has existed throughout the eight years of the governor’s tenure.
So now that the Governor is in the last six months of his second term and is quickly attaining lame duck status, he is suddenly concerned about roads and bridges.
This is the same Governor who led the effort to divert scarce Federal highway funds to mass transit. It is the same Governor who has propelled state overall spending upward at a very fast rate during his time in office with hefty emphasis on education and economic development. Rather than focusing on making sure the critical highway system received top priority, the Governor used highway money to shore up Pittsburgh’s outrageously expensive transit system, pushed an ill-conceived and eventually failed plan to toll I-80, and spent several billion dollars underwriting subsidies to businesses with precious little to show for all the money. And little wonder: given the state’s poor business climate and the rapidly deteriorating condition of the roads and bridges what could we expect?
Ultimately, no amount of spending on education or handouts to business will offset the negative impact horrible highways have on the economy. Call it what it is. On the one hand endless generosity to the state’s teacher unions and on the other dogged determination to make a failed economic development strategy work while being derelict in carrying out one of government’s basic functions-transportation infrastructure.
Is history repeating itself? Later this week the state will convene a meeting in the eastern suburbs of Allegheny County to come up with a fix for roads, bridges, and mass transit in the wake of the none-too-surprising rejection of placing tolls on Interstate 80.
Without tolls on Interstate 80 (I-80) to generate funds for roads, bridges, and mass transit, the CEO of Port Authority (PAT) says that what was a $25 million deficit for the coming fiscal year will grow to $50 million.
For the third time Pennsylvania’s application to toll Interstate 80 (I-80) has been denied by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated that the FHWA “based (the) decision on what is allowable under federal law.”
"…tolling I-80 from border to border is a highly contentious issue and could face substantial difficulties in obtaining Federal approval"-
Allegheny Institute Policy Brief, August 28, 2007
As we pointed out for the better part of the last three years, the state’s plan to ask the Federal government to allow for tolls to be placed on Interstate 80 in order to generate revenues for the state’s roads, bridges, and public transit systems was going to be a long shot. At the time there were other states waiting for permission to levy tolls on previously un-tolled roads, but that was for upgrading and maintaining the roads themselves, not for other transportation needs. That goes without mentioning the negative economic impacts placing tolls on I-80 could have had in the northern corridor.
Near the close of 2007 we suggested that "a major overhaul of the [Act 44] or, better yet, a complete rescission seems to be the best option for Pennsylvania". Yet the state pressed on, ignoring a letter from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in December of 2007 that the plan was not well thought out; the plan was rejected in September of 2008, yet the following May Turnpike officials still felt the application was "viable" and was hoping for a more favorable response from the Obama Administration. That hope was dashed by yesterday’s rejection.
So what follows this episode? The state House Transportation Chairman has said that Act 44 was "plan B" and now there is an indication a special session will be called by the Governor to address possible solutions. Shouldn’t that have been in the works in September of 2008? How did they not get the message?