The overall cost-effectiveness and condition of Pennsylvania’s highway system ranks near the bottom of all U.S. states and is getting worse, according to a study of all states by the Reason Foundation.
The foundation found that Pennsylvania ranks 41st in the country in an evaluation of 13 performance categories for facilities under the state’s control, down two spots from its 39 ranking last year. The foundation, which calls itself a nonprofit libertarian think tank, evaluated and issued a report on each state based on the condition of roads and bridges and spending levels in 2020, the most recent year available.
Overall, Pennsylvania ranks in the bottom 20 in 10 of the 13 categories. Its best categories are the state’s rural fatality rate (9) and the amount of money it spends on capital and bridge projects (21) while the worst are structurally deficient bridges (46) and the amount of transportation money used to pay for nontransportation items such as state police (43).
The state also ranked 32nd in the time motorists spent stuck in traffic, an estimated 22.9 hours a year. The condition of rural (33) and urban (35) pavement ranked low, too.
“Given the poor condition of its bridges and its mediocre pavement condition, the state might consider reprioritizing its spending to focus more on roadway and bridge maintenance,” Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the study, said in the state’s report.
“While it may be challenging for Pennsylvania to have low costs and roadways and bridges in good condition, the state needs to prioritize bringing its infrastructure to a state of good repair.”
Alexis Campbell, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, pointed out that the department has been making long-term improvements on the condition of the state’s bridges and new Gov. Josh Shapiro has proposed removing funding for state police from the transportation budget beginning this year. She noted the state is responsible for among the largest highway systems (nearly 40,000 miles) and among the most bridges (more than 25,400) in the country.
On bridges, the state has cut the number of state-maintained bridges in poor condition from 6,034 in 2008 to 2,352 this year. In Shaprio’s budget address, the governor also called for reducing the transportation department’s funding for state police patrols on state roads by $100 million a year for the next five years and paying for that from the state’s general fund.
Campbell also noted that the state expects to receive an additional $4.1 billion over five years in federal funding under the Biden administration’s infrastructure program. However, the department has pointed out that inflation and the state’s shift of millions of dollars from local roads to interstate highways will limit the benefits from that money.
In an interview, Feigenbaum agreed that the influx of federal funds won’t lead to dramatic improvements across the country. He also questioned whether federal officials did enough to direct the money to be used on needed improvements rather than political pork projects.
“I wouldn’t say it will make a huge difference,” he said of the infrastructure funds. “Obviously, inflation is enormous and not something that was expected.
“I also don’t think the administration did enough to make sure the money is going to projects to keep roads in a state of good repair.”