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Development & Transportation
Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Report: Pennsylvania’s Rural Roads and Bridges Among Worst in Country

Pennsylvania ranks worst in the country for structurally deficient rural bridges, according to a report released by the Road Information Program (TRIP).

The report called “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland,” found that the nation’s rural transportation system is in need of improvements to roads and bridges, reducing high crash rates, and increasing connectivity and capacity. 

The report discovered that the problem is that rural Americans rely more on the quality of their transportation system than urban ones. Unless rural transportation is improved, farmers will pay more for seeds and fertilizers, which increases their cost of production, according Veronica Nigh, economist at the American Farm Bureau. She said the low quality of transportation available for the farmers will then decrease the prices that farmers receive for their crops.

“Without an effective transportation system, farmers take a number of significant hits to their bottom line," Nigh said. "The end result is paying more to grow your commodity and receiving less for it.”

The key source of funding for rural roads is the Federal Surface Transportation Program, which ends May 31.  

In 2013, the Pennsylvania legislature approved $2.3 billion over five years in transportation funding. But Rocky Moretti, director of Policy and Research at TRIP, said that’s only part of the formula.

“So the state has really done their part," Moretti said. "I think that what needs to happen now in Pennsylvania is a strong federal program needs to be approved to complement what has happened at the state level.”

Pennsylvania was ranked first in the nation for structurally deficient rural bridges, with 25 percent of rural  bridges being labeled as having deterioration in one or more of its major components. PA was also 20th in the nation for poorly paved rural roads, at 18 percent. Finally, Pennsylvania was ranked 17th nationally with a rural traffic fatality rate of 2.23 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel.

“Traffic safety in rural areas is a significant concern,” Moretti said. “The report finds out that the fatality rate on rural roads excluding the interstate system is approximately three times higher than on all other roadways.”

Based on a report card graded by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Pennsylvania received a "D+" for its bridges and a "D-" for its roads this past year.

We have underfunded transportation for decades and it’s really no surprise to anybody that we face a massive gap in funding needed just to bring our system up from a 'D+' that the American Society of Civil Engineers gives our roads and bridges to a 'C,'” said Kathleen Bower, Vice President of Public Affairs at AAA. “And that, I will note, is hardly the system that you would expect from a world economic leader like the United States.”

However, the Federal Stimulus Act of 2009 invested an additional $75 billion in transportation funding.

Bower said that the quickest solution to the lack of funding is to increase the gas tax, and as long as the funds are used to increase safety and decrease congestion for motorists, AAA will stand by the decision.

“We continue to support an increase in the federal gas tax," she said. "And yes, that’s not terribly popular with our members, but we know that our members need a good transportation system. We view the increase in the gas tax to be the best near-term solution to support the nation’s infrastructure.”