PITTSBURGH — A national study has confirmed what Pennsylvania officials have been saying for months: The Biden administration’s infrastructure plan is a good boost but not enough to meet all of the country’s transportation needs. .
The 10-page study, released last week by TRIP, a national transportation research organization, said the new funds would provide $454 billion for improvements to roads, bridges and public transit over of the next five years. That’s an increase of about 38% over the planned allocation for that period, but the report cites a U.S. Department of Transportation study last year that estimated the nation needed a 55% increase. % during this period to make significant improvements to roads and bridges. conditions, reduce traffic congestion and improve road safety.
“The additional spending provided by the (Infrastructure Bill) for improving highways, bridges and public transportation should have a significant benefit to the economy by stimulating additional output,” the study said. “Despite increased funding for transportation…the country’s roads, bridges and public transit systems remain significantly underfunded and will require increased investment for necessary improvements and repairs.”
The study pointed out that improving conditions can provide more than just better driving. They can also help save lives.
Road deaths have increased during the pandemic, an unintended consequence that experts say has occurred because less traffic has allowed drivers to exceed the speed limit and engage in dangerous behaviors such as impaired driving and not wearing a seat belt. Experts say around a third of fatal crashes are also linked to roads that could be made safer through better design and engineering, reducing fatalities and resulting in less serious injuries.
TRIP cited a 2017 report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that found a backlog of $146 billion across the country in projects that would improve traffic safety. Implementing these improvements could save about 63,700 lives and reduce serious injuries by 350,000 over 20 years, AAA said.
In Pennsylvania, the study indicates that the state should receive $16.3 billion over five years in federal transportation funds, an increase of about $3.26 billion per year. Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian said the state spends about $6.9 billion on transportation each year, about $8.1 billion less than it should, so the additional federal funds are not even half of this shortfall.
Overall, the TRIP study paints a pretty bleak picture of Pennsylvania’s transportation system compared to the rest of the country. In six key categories — poor and poor pavement, poor and poor urban pavement, poor bridges, bridges over 50 years old, congested highways, and age of transit vehicles — the condition is above the national average in all areas , except for congestion.
Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research at TRIP, said it will be important for states to find ways to generate additional revenue for transportation. The federal funding was approved by a narrow, partisan vote, indicating how difficult it could be to get more money.
Seeking additional funds for transportation has certainly been a tough sell in Pennsylvania.
One of PennDOT’s early efforts, seeking tolls on nine major bridges to pay for their replacement, has been appalled by people who live near the bridges and say they shouldn’t have to pay more than those on other regions. In the Pittsburgh area, municipalities near the Interstate 79 bridge in Bridgeville have filed suit against the tolling process, claiming the state did not receive approval from the Legislative Assembly before proceeding with the charges. tolls.
Last year, a bipartisan commission appointed by Governor Tom Wolf recommended a series of measures to replace the state gas tax with a series of changes that include charging fees for package delivery and rides. shared like Uber and Lyft; increased vehicle registration and car rental fees; and possibly move to a tax based on vehicle-kilometres travelled. So far, none of these ideas have produced legislation that has received serious consideration.
Moretti stressed that building public support for additional spending takes time and ongoing effort.
“The public, when people understand what’s at stake, will generally support transportation improvements,” Moretti said. “I think you really need that public support. It’s an ongoing public education process.”
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