Address the Spending Side on Road Funding First

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation issued a statement responding to our blog post that explains state transportation spending has increased 121% since 1995, more than triple the rate of inflation.  Click here for the full transportation spending data.

PennDOT’s response says inflation for road projects should not be measure against the Consumer Price Index, but against the bid price index, which increased 122% in that time.  The reason we don’t use that measure, is that is entirely based on road construction projects within a state.  Since there are no private road operators in Pennsylvania, the bid prices are entirely determined by state and local government spending – hence we have a chicken-or-egg question. Did higher prices drive up state road construction costs, or did state government spending – without any concern over controlling costs – contribute to higher construction prices?

But even using the bid prices, it is false to say that “PennDOT’s buying power over time has seriously eroded” – the 121% increase in spending (and 124% on highway funding) almost identically matches bid prices.

PennDOT goes on to cite a report that Pennsylvania needs to spend $1.7 billion more per year in transportation.  However, that same report recommends that no additional funding should be provided for highways, bridges and transit unless a series of parallel actions are taken to reform funding structure and a number of transportation business practices.”

The problem is that PennDOT and the transportation industry have put the cart before the horse – demanding more funds without reforming spending.  It is difficult to justify higher taxes or tolls, citing decaying bridges, when the state has funding to build new roads named after politicians; to fund bike trails, parking garages, street lighting, and beautification projects from highway dollars; to put up PR signs thanking politicians for spending our money on each construction project; to “flexâ€? highway dollars to mass transit; and to fund billions in excess on prevailing wage laws.