Meadville Tribune

October 18, 2013

Pennsylvania: Welcome to the state of disrepair

By John Finnerty
CNHI News Service

HARRISBURG — The state House veterans and emergency preparedness committee unanimously passed a resolution urging the president to reopen all federally-maintained veterans monuments earlier this week.

It worked.

After 16 days of stalemate and Armageddon headlines on every media, Congress approved a deal to reopen the federal government.

With that crisis averted, let’s see if they can get something done in Harrisburg.

Lawmakers returned for a two-day session last week during which the House was supposed to vote on transportation funding. Of course, they didn’t.

By most accounts, the road and bridge spending is being wrangled over by House leadership. Democrats insist that they are encouraged because unlike June, they are being included in the bargaining. This means, there is a greater chance that a vote can actually take place without the en masse Democrat boycott that torpedoed the legislation in the summer.

There are a lot of moving parts though. There’s the push to tack some prevailing wage reform into the bill. Democrats argue that any attempt to water down the $480 million in mass transit funding will be a deal-breaker. And in conversation after conversation with lawmakers from the rural western portions of the state, I heard the same refrain: “They are asking me to vote for a gas tax hike but PennDOT (the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) really isn’t talking about doing that much in my district.”

Yet, we all will pay the higher gas tax and see registration fees double.

For those keeping track, there are three session days this week. Then, the Legislature breaks until the middle of November.

Asked when a transportation vote might take place, a House member sighed: “Christmas?”

But fear not, it’s not like the Legislature has not found time to do anything about the state of roads and bridges in the commonwealth. We are, after all, in the state where 1-in-6 bridges are structurally-deficient. Forget the Keystone State. Call us the State of Disrepair.

So, six of the 74 laws passed in Pennsylvania this year have dealt with roads or bridges.

Not fixing them. Naming them. At a cost of $500 a crack for the signs that go along the road.

This being Pennsylvania, we even name bridges that are structurally deficient. With 1-in-6 bridges rated structurally deficient, if you name a half dozen of them, one will undoubtedly be in rough shape. 

And in Potter County, almost 1-in-3 bridges are structurally-deficient. So, earlier this year, the Legislature voted to name three Potter County bridges after soldiers killed in Vietnam.  Naturally, one of those bridges is structurally deficient. 

This is in no way intended to suggest that the people whose names have been placed on signs along the commonwealth’s highways and bridges do not deserve the honor. But, it is intended to question why this is a matter that has consumed fully 8 percent of the legislative output of the Legislature in 2013.

We don’t think the government should provide health care to the working poor because the private sector can do it better. But, deciding whose name belongs on a bridge is a matter that can only be determined by the wisdom of the state Legislature?

How’s this for a resolution: How about we don’t name any more roads and bridges until we figure out how to cover the cost of fixing them?

John Finnerty works in the Harrisburg Bureau for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., which owns The Meadville Tribune. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter @cnhipa.