Pennsylvania's aging infrastructure has some dubious claims to fame. The state has 7,000 miles of roads that need to be fixed, along with 5,600 structurally deficient bridges — easily the most in the nation. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pointed out , that's more than Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia and all of New England combined.
The federal government only added to Pennsylvania's transportation headaches a month ago, when it refused to allow the state to place tolls on Interstate 80, a major artery that crosses the state from east to west. The decision left the state with a $472 million hole in its transportation budget.
Starting today (May 4), legislators will meet in a special session to address that deficit and to weigh Pennsylvania's larger infrastructure reality. Governor Ed Rendell will speak to a joint session of the General Assembly at 1 p.m., and everything from a higher gas tax to higher driver's license fees to new public-private partnerships is on the table.
At least one possible revenue source has already been tried and failed. In 2007, Rendell proposed leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike in what would have been the largest public-private partnership in U.S. history. But the plan faltered amid a lack of planning and a lack of communication between the governor and lawmakers, according to a study last year by the Pew Center on the States, Stateline 's parent organization.
A higher gas tax, meanwhile, is likely to face serious political opposition, Dennis Jett, a professor of international affairs at Penn State University, wrote in a recent commentary for The Christian Science Monitor .
"In the current political climate," Jett wrote, "raising taxes is outside the realm of rational discussion. Those who are the loudest constantly demand lower taxes and less government and their mantra is reported as though it were a universally held belief. The debate in the state legislature will therefore probably veer in the direction of which programs to cut and how much of I-80's maintenance to defer."