The Condition, Use and Funding of Pennsylvania’s Roads,

Bridges and Transit System

November 2010

Prepared by:


Executive Summary

Pennsylvania’s extensive system of roads, highways, bridges and public transit is the backbone that supports the state’s economy.  Pennsylvania’s surface transportation system needs to provide safe and efficient commutes to work and school, visits with family and friends, and trips to tourist and recreation attractions while simultaneously providing businesses with reliable access for customers, suppliers and employees.  With an unemployment rate of nine percent and with the state’s population continuing to grow, Pennsylvania must improve its system of roads, highways, bridges and public transit to foster economic growth and ensure the safe, reliable mobility needed to improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.

As Pennsylvania looks to rebound from the current economic downturn, the state will need to enhance its surface transportation system by improving its physical condition and enhancing the system’s ability to provide efficient and reliable mobility for residents, visitors and businesses.  Making needed improvements to Pennsylvania’s roads, highways, bridges and transit could provide a significant boost to the state’s economy by creating jobs and stimulating long-term economic growth as a result of enhanced mobility and access.

Pennsylvania faces enormous challenges in addressing its transportation needs.  Deteriorated road and bridge conditions and mounting traffic congestion threaten to impede economic activity and diminish quality of life. The state’s public transportation systems are also in disrepair and must be modernized and expanded.

While the needs of the state’s highway and transit systems continue to grow, the amount of revenue to address these needs is expected to remain inadequate, resulting in significant challenges in providing a smooth, efficient and well-maintained system of roads, bridges and transit.  A recent report from the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee shows that the state faces an annual transportation funding shortfall of $3.5 billion to meet highway, bridge and transit needs. As the state lacks adequate funding to improve physical conditions and traffic congestion worsens, meeting Pennsylvania’s need to modernize and maintain its system of roads, bridges and public transit will require a significant boost in local, state and federal funding.

One aim of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved in February 2009, is to stimulate the economy and provide a significant, short-term boost in transportation funding.  Pennsylvania’s estimated $1.37 billion in stimulus funding has allowed the state to perform some needed rehabilitation and improvements to its road, bridge and public transit systems, but this one-time funding boost will not allow the state to proceed with numerous projects needed to modernize its surface transportation system.

This report examines the use, condition and funding of Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges as well as its public transportation system. Also included in the report are individualized analyses for the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre urban areas.  These individualized reports cover each respective city and the surrounding metropolitan area and contain regional data on road and bridge conditions, congestion, transit use, transit system conditions, and traffic safety, as well as lists of each area’s most deteriorated roads and bridges. These regional assessments are included as Appendices A through D in the report.  All data used in the report is the latest available.

Pennsylvania residents incur a significant financial cost as a result of roads and highways being congested, deteriorated or lacking some desirable safety features.  Failure to improve the state’s transportation network will likely increase these costs.

  • TRIP estimates that Pennsylvania’s roadways that lack some desirable safety features, have inadequate capacity to meet travel demands or have poor pavement conditions cost the state’s drivers approximately $8.2 billion annually in the form of traffic crashes, additional vehicle operating costs (VOC) and congestion-related delays. Appendices A-D of the report contain regional data and cost breakdowns for the state’s largest urban areas.

  • Approved in February 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act offered a significant, short-term boost in transportation funding in Pennsylvania by providing $1.0 billion for road and bridge improvements and $343.7 million for the state’s public transit system. However, this funding is not sufficient to allow the state to proceed with many needed long-term projects that would improve safety, relieve congestion, enhance economic productivity and rehabilitate the state’s roadway and transit system.
  • Numerous projects needed to maintain and expand the current transportation system will not be able to move forward without a significant, long-term boost in funding at the local, state or federal level.
  • A recent report from the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee shows that the state faces an annual transportation funding shortfall of $3.5 billion to meet highway, bridge and transit needs.
  • Making needed repairs to the state’s transportation system can help boost Pennsylvania’s economy. A 2007 analysis by the Federal Highway Administration found that every $1 billion invested in highway construction would support approximately 27,800 jobs, including approximately 9,500 in the construction sector, approximately 4,300 jobs in industries supporting the construction sector, and approximately 14,000 other jobs induced in non-construction related sectors of the economy.
  • The Federal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements results in an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, reduced delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, reduced road and bridge maintenance costs, and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.
  • Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate more than doubled over the past three years, from 4.4 percent in September 2007 to 9.0 percent in September 2010.

Increases in the state’s population and rate of vehicle travel have placed additional stress on Pennsylvania’s roadways and transit systems, resulting in rising congestion and additional deterioration. Traffic congestion in Pennsylvania is a growing burden in key urban areas and threatens to impede the state’s economic development.

  • Vehicle travel on Pennsylvania’s major highways increased by 26 percent from 1990 to 2008 – jumping from 85.7 billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 1990 to 108 billion VMT in 2008.  Vehicle travel in Pennsylvania is expected to increase by another 25 percent by 2025, reaching approximately 135 billion VMT.
  • Pennsylvania’s population reached approximately 12.6 million in 2009, an increase of
    six percent and nearly three quarters of a million people since 1990. Pennsylvania’s population is expected to increase to 12.77 million by 2030.
  • From 1990 to 2008, Pennsylvania’s gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the state’s economic output, increased by 35 percent, when adjusted for inflation.
  • Congestion on Pennsylvania’s urban highways is growing as a result of increases in vehicle travel and population. In 2008, 34 percent of Pennsylvania’s urban highways were congested, carrying traffic volumes that result in significant rush hour delay.
  • The statewide cost of traffic congestion, in the form of lost time and wasted fuel, is approximately $2.3 billion annually.

Driving on rough roads costs the average Pennsylvania motorist approximately $341 per year in extra vehicle operating costs – a total of $2.9 billion statewide.

  • In 2008, 15 percent of major roads in Pennsylvania were rated in poor condition.  Another 28 percent of the state’s major roads were rated in mediocre condition. Major roads include the state’s Interstates, freeways and arterials. 
  • Roads rated in poor condition often have significant rutting, potholes or other visible signs of deterioration and typically need to be resurfaced or reconstructed. Roads rated in mediocre condition show signs of significant wear and may also have some visible pavement distress. Most pavements in mediocre condition can be repaired by resurfacing, but some may need more extensive reconstruction to return them to good condition.
  • Driving on roads in need of repair costs each Pennsylvania motorist an average of $341 annually in extra vehicle operating costs, a total of $2.9 billion statewide.  These costs include accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional vehicle repair costs, increased fuel consumption and increased tire wear.
  • The functional life of Pennsylvania’s roads is greatly affected by the state’s ability to perform timely maintenance and upgrades to ensure that structures last as long as possible.  It is critical that roads are fixed before they require major repairs because reconstructing roads costs approximately four times more than resurfacing them.
  • This report contains information on pavement conditions in Pennsylvania’s major metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.  Also included is a list of the sections of roadway in each of these urban areas that are most deteriorated and in need of repair. These regional assessments can be found in Appendices A through D of the report.

Pennsylvania has the greatest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country.  This includes all bridges that are 20 feet or more in length and are maintained by state, local and federal agencies.

  • Twenty-seven percent of Pennsylvania’s bridges were structurally deficient in 2009. A bridge is structurally deficient if there is significant deterioration of the bridge deck, supports or other major components. Structurally deficient bridges are often posted for lower weight or closed to traffic, restricting or redirecting commercial trucks and other larger vehicles including emergency service vehicles.
  • Seventeen percent of Pennsylvania’s bridges were functionally obsolete in 2009. Bridges that are functionally obsolete no longer meet current highway design standards, often because of narrow lanes and shoulders, inadequate clearances or poor alignment.
  • The report contains a list of needed bridge rehabilitation and replacement projects across the state that currently lack adequate funding to proceed.
  • This report contains information on bridge conditions in Pennsylvania’s major metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.  Also included in the report is a list of bridges in each of these areas that are most deteriorated and in need of repair. These regional assessments can be found in Appendices A through D of the report.

Pennsylvania’s rural traffic fatality rate is nearly three times greater than the fatality rate on all other roads in the state.  Improving safety features on Pennsylvania’s roads and highways would result in a decrease in traffic fatalities in the state.  Roadway characteristics are likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of all fatal and serious traffic accidents.

  • Between 2004 and 2008, 7,590 people were killed in traffic accidents in Pennsylvania, an average of 1,518 fatalities per year.
  • Pennsylvania’s traffic fatality rate was 1.36 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2008, higher than the national average of 1.25.
  • The traffic fatality rate in 2008 on Pennsylvania’s non-Interstate rural roads was 2.65 traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, which is nearly three times higher than the traffic fatality rate of .91 on all other roads and highways in the state.
  • Several factors are associated with vehicle accidents that result in fatalities, including driver behavior, vehicle design and roadway characteristics.
  • TRIP estimates that roadway characteristics, such as lane widths, lighting, signage and the presence or absence of guardrails, paved shoulders, traffic lights, rumble strips, obstacle barriers, turn lanes, median barriers and pedestrian or bicycle facilities, were likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of all fatal and serious traffic crashes.
  • Where appropriate, highway improvements can reduce traffic fatalities and accidents while improving traffic flow to help relieve congestion.  Such improvements include removing or shielding obstacles; adding or improving medians; adding rumble strips, wider lanes, wider and paved shoulders; upgrading roads from two lanes to four lanes; and better road markings and traffic signals.
  • Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of rural narrow lanes (less than 12 feet wide) in the country – 41 percent.  The U.S. average is 10 percent.
  • The Federal Highway Administration has found that every $100 million spent on needed highway safety improvements will result in 145 fewer traffic fatalities over a 10-year period.
  • The cost of serious traffic crashes in Pennsylvania in 2008, in which roadway characteristics were likely a contributing factor, was approximately $3 billion.  The costs associated with serious crashes include lost productivity, lost earnings, medical costs and emergency services.

The efficiency of Pennsylvania’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the health of the state’s economy. Businesses are increasingly reliant on an efficient and reliable transportation system to move products and services. A key component in business efficiency and success is the level and ease of access to customers, markets, materials and workers.

  • Approximately $489 billion in goods are shipped annually from sites in Pennsylvania and another $458 billion in goods are shipped annually to sites in Pennsylvania, mostly by commercial trucks on the state’s highways.
  • Seventy-seven percent of the goods shipped annually from sites in Pennsylvania are carried by trucks and another 14 percent are carried by courier services, which use trucks for part of the deliveries. Commercial trucking in Pennsylvania is projected to increase 17 percent by 2020.
  • Increasingly, companies are looking at the quality of a region’s transportation system when deciding where to relocate or expand. Regions with congested or poorly maintained roads may see businesses relocate to areas with a smoother, more efficient transportation system.
  • Businesses have responded to improved communications and greater competition by moving from a push-style distribution system, which relies on low-cost movement of bulk commodities and large-scale warehousing, to a pull-style distribution system, which relies on smaller, more strategic and time-sensitive movement of goods.

All data used in the report is the latest available. Sources of information for this report include the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Reason Foundation and the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI).

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