Penna.'s Roads And Bridges Inadequate For 21st Century

Posted: July 20, 1990

During the late 1940s, Pennsylvanians joined with the rest of America in construction of a dynamic network of bridges and highways. This stunning evolution of our ground transportation system forever changed the way in which we conduct business, get to work or, simply, get away for a weekend.

Our romance with the "open road" has eroded, however, to where we now take the automobile and our roads and bridges for granted. We expect to get into our vehicles and drive to our destinations without encountering bumpy roads or unnecessary delays and detours. While the auto industry has done its best to keep up with the times, our highway system has not. Pennsylvania's roads and bridges - most built before 1960 and expected to last 20 years at one-third of today's traffic levels - need to be improved to support Pennsylvania's economic growth into the next century.

According to recent Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) statistics, 18.9 percent of Pennsylvania's most-heavily traveled roads are rated "poor" and another 46.3 percent are considered "fair." Pennsylvania's bridges didn't fare much better; the FHWA said 40.3 percent are "deficient." Of the 50 states, the second highest number of roads that FHWA rated "poor" is in Pennsylvania.

Costs of road construction and maintenance continue to rise - the longer we wait to repair the more it will cost us. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's (PennDOT) 12-year plan for highway construction shows a shortfall of $7 billion at current revenue levels from what Pennsylvania citizens requested from the State Transportation Commission.

The state's 12-year program attempts to address the problem, but only 528 miles of major improvements (at a cost of $4.3 billion) are planned to accommodate traffic growth in all areas. Secretary of Transportation Howard Yerusalim recognizes the need for road improvements, and his department should be commended for keeping the system in the best possible condition at current levels of funding. The problem lies in targeting additional resources so PennDOT's agenda can be expanded.

In addition to creating an environment in the General Asembly to target more funds for highway improvement, we need to shake free some cash from the surplus in the federal highway trust fund that is due Pennsylvania. According to PennDOT, the surplus represents user fees collected for transportation improvements. Pennsylvania's share of the trust fund is more than $520 million.

Indeed, we have much to gain by repairing and expanding our highway network. One of the factors businesses consider when planning to locate or expand is the quality and availability of ground transportation. The economic impact a road can have is noteworthy.

Consider the Schuylkill Expressway, which runs through Philadelphia. According to a study by Orth-Rodgers and Associates, the $225 million improvement project cut travel for rush hour motorists by 28 percent, and, at the same time, allowed traffic volume to increase by five percent. In addition, rehabilitation of the Schuylkill, which took four years to complete, greatly reduced the amount of unnecessary wear and tear to vehicles.

Without additional money for our highways, all of us will continue to endure poor roads and economic losses. For example, Bethesda-based Apogee Research reported that during 1988 additional wear and tear to vehicles

because of road conditions cost Pennsylvania drivers an astonishing $7.9 billion! And estimated losses from waiting in traffic tie-ups during that same year came to 307 million gallons of fuel and 488 million hours wasted.

In addition to economic losses, we must consider the unfavorable effects poor road have on our environmnent. Exhaust emissions from traffic congestion are a major source of air pollution in and around our cities.

We must move together to improve a road and bridge network designed to meet the needs of drivers of 40 years ago.

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Readers are welcome to submit proposed "Guest Opinion" columns to Editorial Dept., Daily News, 400 N. Broad St., Phila., Pa. 19101.

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