The Price of Being the Keystone State
By State Rep. Curt Sonney

Pennsylvania’s status as the Keystone State is the result of us being a pass-through to and from different portions of the northeastern United States. We bear 35 percent more traffic than the national average, with truck traffic 200 percent above the national average. Pennsylvania’s 41,158-mile highway system is larger than the state road systems of New York, New Jersey and the New England states combined.

The cost of that status - approximately 36 percent of our state roads are rated in “poor” or “mediocre” condition. Pennsylvania is in the top half of the list of worst road conditions. We lead the nation in structurally deficient bridges (6,536). More than 40 percent of them are either weight-restricted or closed, and that number will not decrease on its own.

On Thursday, Nov. 21, I joined the majority of my House colleagues in passing legislation to fund Pennsylvania’s infrastructure needs. House Bill 1060, which was signed into law Monday, Nov. 25, is a bipartisan compromise which will provide more than $2 billion in additional transportation funding for bridge and highway repair, new highways and the state’s 37 mass transit agencies. It will also stretch taxpayer dollars and increase the amount of road work that can be completed by raising the prevailing wage threshold on transportation projects from $25,000 to $100,000.

We are fortunate that our local officials have prioritized projects and addressed them quickly. Only four bridges managed by municipalities in Erie County are listed as “at risk”: Haskell Hill Road in Amity Township, Reservoir Road in Elk Township, Old Sterrettania Road in Millcreek Township and Leacock Road in Washington Township. The only state-owned bridge of similar concern is Stone Quarry Road in LeBoeuf Township.

But our municipalities are overworked and underfunded. Pennsylvania’s boroughs and townships maintain 78,000 miles of roads. Without additional investment, the number of statewide roadway miles regarded as in poor condition will increase from 9,200 to an estimated 16,000 in 2017. Overall, our local roads are in decent shape, but the cost of doing nothing will grow. PennDOT has a list of more than 100 projects in the 4th Legislative District alone that are on hold to this point. It includes the Mill Village railroad underpass, which will soon go out to bid.

If we had done nothing, the cost to repair and maintain our state’s highways and more than 25,000 bridges would be even greater in years to come, as more of them are closed and the cost of repairs increases. To protect the safety of our families, students and workers, this new transportation investment will help the state and local communities begin to upgrade road and bridge projects, while reducing congestion.

House Bill 1060 will result in cost-saving measures at PennDOT that will save $1 billion over the next decade, such as “bundling” of state-owned and/or locally-owned bridges for the purpose of cost-efficient design and construction. It also mandates biannual performance audits of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to be conducted by the auditor general.

Like other states, Pennsylvania does not use income or sales taxes for highways. Our roads are supported by the people who use them through the fuel tax, vehicle registrations and driver license fees. House Bill 1060 slightly increases those fees over the next three years. Passenger cars will see an increase from $36 to $37 in 2015-16 and from $37 to $38 in 2017-18. After that, there will be an inflationary increase every two years.

Additionally, we are immediately eliminating the 12-cent, at-the-pump liquid fuels tax that is currently paid by motorists and making a 100 percent shift to a tax that is paid by oil companies.

Pennsylvania has more truck traffic, more freeze-thaw cycles that damage pavement and a transportation system that is far greater in size than our neighbors’ systems. It is a fact of life – highways and bridges are costly to build and maintain. They have a limited lifespan. Potholes must be repaired. Roads must be resurfaced. Bridges must be maintained to meet required safety standards.

This was not an easy vote for me, however I believe the urgency of this legislation outweighed the penalty from doing nothing especially when it comes to the safety of our citizens. The future cost to consumers and motorists in the Commonwealth would be far more time consuming, dangerous and expensive the longer we wait.

Representative Curt Sonney
4th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Scott Little
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