Decade of decay

The absence of transportation reform has left a gaping hole – and in this case, literally.

“Roads and bridges are falling apart,” said state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of bridges classified as “structurally deficient,” as the average age of these bridges is over 50 years old, according to the state Department of Transportation. There are 25,000 state-owned bridges.

Over 65 locally-owned, structurally deficient bridges in Lycoming County need replaced or repaired, according to Mark Murawski, county transportation planner. Add that to the 43 state-owned, structurally deficient bridges, and the dismal number comes out to 108 in the state.

Murawski said decades of underfunding has ballooned the situation to crisis proportions.

When the state budget was passed last month, transportation reform was linked to liquor reform, which is one of the factors that caused it to fail, Everett said.

Everett said he thinks the transportation issue looks more promising to reform since everyone has a vested interest in it and there is a separate transportation budget from the General Fund budget.

Everett explained the state Senate passed the transportation budget, but the state House did not because it would essentially raise the price at the pump.

“We can’t print money…and start building roads,” Everett said.

A study group analyzed what transportation issues needed to be funded which turned into a proposal the Senate passed to the tune of $2.5 billion over the course of 10 years, called the Decade of Investment, Everett said. The state House changed it, and “in the end, it just fell apart,” Everett said.

What that means is 63 different projects will never see the light of day if a transportation bill isn’t passed, Murawski said. One of those is a $600 million project, the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway, a 12-mile highway project in Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties to resolve congestion near Selinsgrove.

The dilemma also reaches into the Interstate 99 corridor, much of which has been completed in the state, but has stalled in places like Clinton and Lycoming counties.

“People are concerned about the corridor between Jersey Shore and Williamsport on (Route) 220,” Murawski said, where there have been numerous deadly crashes.

Interstate 99 could be a solution to that problem if funded.

“It’ll cost $300 million at least to get it completed in Lycoming County, and that wasn’t even in the Decade of Investment,” Murawski said.

What was included was the completion of the West Fourth Street interchange.

Congress also canceled the Appalachia Highway program last year, which would have been a key funding source for highways in the state.

“There’s just not money to do anything significant is the message here,” Murawski said.

“So in my opinion, what we did see as a positive decade of investment in PennDOT was a decade of decay, because that’s what we’ll see now,” Murawski said. “We’re in a world of hurt right now.”

The crisis will spell itself out in the detours around deficient bridges, and people paying more at the pump for sitting longer in traffic, plus car repairs.

“These are costs we all bear because we don’t have a good transportation system,” Murawski said.

Everett and Murawski agreed the cost will increase with time.

“The longer you delay fixing them, the more expensive it is because we’ll have to do more,” Everett said.

Everett said if there are enough votes to support the measure, transportation reform will be put up for a vote when the legislature reconvenes this fall. He warned those who weren’t in favor of it before aren’t likely to change their minds.

“Maybe if we can get back and just talk transportation without it wrapped up with the budget and liquor bill,” Everett said.

Everett noted the unions in the state are against modernization of the liquor system.

But he said the reform is good all around.

“It’s good for jobs, unions and business people,” Everett said.

Murawski has his doubts about its passage.

“I just want to stress to people it’ll be faster for us to fly to Neptune than anybody to pass that right now,” Murawski said.

Murawski encouraged citizens to contact their legislators to let them know they want these transportation improvements.