Why are PA Roads so Bad?

Some of my friends and I like to take road trips to and through the states that border PA. One of the jokes we always make is, “You can tell you’re out of Pennsylvania when the road gets smooth.” Okay, maybe that’s a lame joke, but the really sad part is, it’s true – Pennsylvania roads were rated worst overall by Overdrive magazine.

But based on what we spend, Pennsylvania roads should not be as bad as they are.

  • Pennsylvania has the 13th highest gasoline tax in the nation, at 32.3 cents per gallon. That is more than double New Jersey’s gas tax.
  • Pennsylvania also gets back more than it pays into the Federal Highway Program, the national trust fund primarily financed by the federal gas tax. Taxes paid into the program are essentially distributed back to states, explains the Heritage Foundation, “through a series of mathematical formulae that attempt to match the scope and usage of each state’s surface transportation system with payments received from the trust fund.”
  • Governor Rendell admits, “Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges – 5,646 …, and we have more than 7,000 miles of state roads in poor condition,” but this despite a dramatic increase in funding into bridges and roads since he took office. Taxpayers spent an extra $700 million on bridges in 2009 than 2002, and an extra $400 million on roadways.
  • Despite the revenue from the high gas tax and the payback from the Federal Highway Program, Pennsylvania’s roads are lacking. PA ranks 38th on the list of cost effective state-owned highway systems.
  • Pennsylvania ranks 4th overall in state highway and road spending, and 9th in both spending per mile and spending per capita. The only states that rank higher on per capita spending are those with small populations, such as, Alaska, Wyoming, and Montana. Click here for a table of transportation spending by state.

Given Pennsylvania’s high rank in transportation spending and taxes, but low ranking on road and bridge conditions, perhaps we need to look at how the money is being spent rather than simply looking for more.