Pennsylvania Spends, Gets Bad Roads
By Leo Knepper
Lowman Henry, last week, discussed the slow-motion fiscal train wreck that the Pennsylvania Turnpike faces. At the end of August, we noted that Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale was pushing back against his colleagues who were trying to enact a new tax on County drivers. In both instances, readers noted that it was only natural for Pennsylvania to spend so much on road work due to the volume of roadways the state maintained.
It is reasonable to argue that there is a direct relationship between the miles of road and the funds required to maintain those same roads. However, that argument ignores the issue of whether or not the money is spent efficiently. In the case of the Turnpike, some of the funds it sends to PennDOT are used to subsidize mass transit, which are some of the most inefficiently operated systems in the state. Furthermore, people should pay for the services they use. If someone uses mass transit, the ticket price should cover the cost. Likewise, tolls from the Turnpike should fund the Turnpike.
Returning to the original issue of whether or not the taxes being collected to spend on roadwork are being spent efficiently by PennDOT, one way to determine the answer to this question is to look at spending on a per mile basis. According to the Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report, Pennsylvania spends more per mile than 27 other states, $160,477. Regarding overall efficiency, the Report calculated that Pennsylvania’s overall rank was 39th when road conditions and other measures were taken into account.
Taxpayers and drivers shouldn’t expect an improvement in Pennsylvania’s standing next year. The Report relied on 2013 data, meaning it was before the gas tax increase enacted by Governor Corbett. As we noted in 2013, the General Assembly’s failure to reform how transportation dollars were spent would result in even more waste. We fully expect that prediction to be born out in the future.