By Hans van Naerssen, Chair, Pennsylvania Walks and Bikes
Pennsylvanians deserve to travel safely whether they drive a car, take a bus or train, ride a bike or walk. And no matter how one travels to and from work, shopping or appointments, everyone uses the same bridges and roads and should be able to use them without worrying about their safety and about getting to where they are going without undue delays. But, worry they must because the Commonwealth’s transportation network is in crisis after years of insufficient investment.
With 25,000 bridges that are on average, 50 years old, Pennsylvania’s 4774 structurally deficient bridges place the state first in the nation with bridges in need of repair. There is also a backlog in the repaving and reconstruction of the 121,000-mile state road system, as anyone who has been our roads can confirm.
Compounding the degraded state of the state’s roads and bridges, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation forecasts that congestion is worsening. The total number of hours that vehicles are delayed will increase by 48 percent by 2030, due to the increase in miles driven by motor vehicles (27 percent) and miles driven by trucks (47 percent) over the same period. Congestion isn’t just annoying, it’s expensive; it drains $2.7 billion out of the Pennsylvanians economy each year.
As bad as congestion is, getting killed or injured on the state’s roads is much more serious. In 2010, there were 121,312 reportable traffic crashes in Pennsylvania. These crashes claimed the lives of 1,324 and injured another 87,949. Although these numbers are the lowest since the 1950s, it doesn’t dull the fact that someone in Pennsylvania is killed in a motor vehicle crash every seven hours. But, safety is not only a public health issue. It’s also an economic one. In 2008, Pennsylvania crashes and fatalities resulted in economic losses totaling an estimated $15.4 billion, or $926 for every person in Pennsylvania.
Additionally, the state is suffering another public health crisis related to transportation. Currently, 28.6 percent of adults in Pennsylvania are considered obese. At the current trajectory, 56.7 percent of Pennsylvania adults will be obese by 2030. Even more alarming is that child obesity rates have more than tripled in the last 30 years. Forty percent of Pennsylvania’s young adults are considered overweight or obese. Walking, jogging or biking 30 minutes a day can dramatically improve one’s health. But kids and adults need safe sidewalks, intersections and comfortable streets before they make walking or biking to school, work or for errands part of their daily life.
Building more roads isn’t going help reduce the severity of these problems. Only maintaining and repairing the state’s transportation network and enhancing it with multiple transportation options is going produce positive results. Public health, public safety and congestion illustrate how interrelated different modes of transportation are and that a comprehensive solution to funding all modes of travel is essential.
Due to increasing vehicle fuel efficiency, Pennsylvania now collects less fuel tax revenue per mile traveled than it has at any time in the past. There is much less state money available to be spent on improvements to the transportation system, leading to a growing funding gap.
Compounding the decline in funding availability is the steady increase in construction costs. In 2010, the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee calculated that the annual funding gap, which was $1.7 billion in 2006, had grown to $3.5 billion. The cost of not fixing the problem grows by about $1 million every day that the problem is not fixed. By 2020, that gap could double to $7.2 billion.
Although some insist that today’s tax rates should not increase, that short sighted view ignores the fact that Pennsylvanians already paying dearly for congestion, crashes that result in fatalities and injuries and increased public health costs. By putting off maintenance, repair and investment in our state’s transportation infrastructure, we end up paying other costs instead and are handing a tax burden to our children.
Governor Corbett’s proposal this week has been eagerly awaited by all transportation sectors, including the biking and walking community. We think it is a good starting point to help resolve the Commonwealth’s transportation funding crisis. We look forward to the State Legislature working with Governor Corbett to pass a comprehensive bill that addresses safety and congestion to turn around Pennsylvania’s transportation crisis.