One of the most time-honored tactics in state and national politics is to appoint a prestigious commission to thoroughly study a problem. The committee is then charged with issuing its recommendations at some future point – recommendations which, presumably, will be followed in solving the problem. Over the past few years, this venerated technique has been applied by both the current and previous state administrations to study the critical issue of Pennsylvania’s deteriorating roads and transportation infrastructure.
Although they were appointed by governors from different political parties, both commissions came up with essentially the same conclusions, and both resulted in legislative paralysis. Both were clear about the dismal state of the Commonwealth’s roads and bridges, both saw it as a matter of urgency, and both saw the immediate need for higher levels of funding.
One of the most critical needs that both studies identified involved an alarming decline in the condition of local roads, which represent 64 percent of all public road miles in the state. So Pennsylvania’s State Transportation Commission, which endorsed both sets of studies and recommendations, ordered up a special review of the matter from the perspective of local governments. Those findings have just been issued.
What they concluded is that there’s a huge gap between the money needed to maintain and repair local roads, and the money currently available to do it. In fact, according to the study, current funding for local road and bridge repair is $1.6 billion a year while the estimated need is $3.8 billion – a whopping difference of $2.2 billion a year. So Recommendation #1 of the Commission is that local governments take action to raise the revenue required to address local road and bridge needs.
In some important respects, that’s passing the buck. Local governments don’t collect gas tax from their residents – states do. But adding another cent or two to that tax in order to maintain local roads is something the General Assembly has declined to do. Instead, they’ve kicked the can over to local governments.
We’d like to see that change. But we don’t see much likelihood of it in the foreseeable future. So instead of waiting for the good fairy to arrive from Harrisburg, Cranberry’s Board of Supervisors is now considering the difficult step of raising local property taxes to keep Township roads from falling into disrepair. It’s not a particularly welcome proposition, but we hear the state Commission’s message, and we’re serious about making sure Cranberry doesn’t fall victim to the state’s political paralysis while our roads fall into a state of disrepair. PA State Transportation Advisory Committee December 2011 Report- Financial Needs of Counties and Municipalities For Highways and Bridges
As always, I would appreciate your viewpoints- email Jerry