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Coronavirus is the newest threat to highway funding

April 16, 2020

Despite the troubles that swirl around us, there was a glimmer of positivity this week as the American Road & Transportation Builders Association released its annual report on the condition of the nation’s bridges.

In terms of the percentage of faulty bridges among all that the Commonwealth owns, Pennsylvania has fallen to fifth in the country, having held the dubious distinction of being No. 1 on the list for several years.

Act 89 of 2013 and the Public-Private Partnership known as the PA Rapid Bridge Replacement Program are largely responsible for the improvement. In 2013, Pennsylvania had more than 6,000 faulty bridges, and that number has been reduced by about half (we’re generalizing a bit here because different bridge counters have different ways for assessing and counting them).

In any event, ARTBA says the percentage of Pennsylvania’s faulty bridges has fallen to 15.3% of its total, sandwiched between South Dakota’s 17% and Louisiana’s 13.2%. Rhode Island tops the list with nearly one-quarter its spans rated as deficient. Rhode Island has 779 bridges compared with Pennsylvania’s 22,911.

Reacting to ARTBA’s report, APC’s Bob Latham noted that while the improved ranking is welcome news, there is considerable trouble on the horizon as tax revenue declines due to improving fuel efficiency, inflation increases the cost of labor and materials, and revenue raised to build and maintain highways continues to be diverted for non-transportation uses.

And a new and possibly more devastating funding challenge has raised its head. The nationwide lockdowns to fight the spread of COVID-19 are keeping people at home and their cars in the garage. It will have a yet-to-be determined negative impact on the fuel tax revenue available to repair and maintain our highways.

For the specific Pennsylvania bridge condition data, click here.

 

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