It was like a scene from the film Groundhog Day. The collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park unleashed a torrent of rhetoric from elected officials about the urgency of addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs. Such talk is as perennial an occurrence as the appearance of the famous rodent on Gobbler’s Knob.
President Biden ironically was scheduled to be in Pittsburgh the very day of the bridge collapse to tout his mis-named “infrastructure bill” and promptly promised to “fix all” of the Steel City’s over 400 bridges. Nice words, but as improbable as an early Spring.
Never one to not try and score political points during a crisis Governor Tom Wolf weighed in blasting those Republican members of congress who voted against the recently passed “infrastructure bill.” This despite the fact only a minor portion of spending contained within that legislation will be expended on traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
That Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges are in such dire condition is reflective of yet another failing of the Wolf Administration. Tom Wolf has been Governor of Penn’s Woods for seven (very) long years. During that time his administration has botched everything from the COVID-19 pandemic response to the 2020 elections.
Former Governor Tom Corbett began the process of coming to grips with the commonwealth’s traditional infrastructure needs. In November of 2013 he signed what KDKA-TV termed “the most expansive and expensive transportation funding bill in recent years promising major new investments.”
To fund those “new investments” the legislation signed by the Republican governor increased taxes on oil companies that ultimately translated into consumers paying 40-cents per gallon more at the pumps. The promise was that roads and bridges would finally get fixed.
But the next year Tom Corbett lost his bid for re-election and seven years later his successor has failed to deliver on the promise. Our roads and bridges remain in a state of advanced disrepair with Biden and Wolf calling for even more dollars to be poured down the infrastructure rat hole.
To be fair the failing is not Tom Wolf’s alone. Pennsylvania’s macro transportation funding paradigm is a mish-mash of policies that require a fiscal GPS to navigate. For example, billions of dollars have been diverted from the Motor License Fund, supposedly earmarked for road and bridge repair, to help fund the Pennsylvania State Police. While, of course, the Pennsylvania State Police should be fully funded it is fiscal folly to siphon money from the road and bridge repair budget.
In addition to higher gas taxes motorists have experienced steep annual fare increases to drive on the Pennsylvania Turnpike because a botched scheme to toll I-80 left the Turnpike with a requirement to make annual $450 million payments to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation with no corresponding revenue stream. That requirement is set to decrease to $50 million in the 2022-23 fiscal year creating yet another hole in PennDOT’s budget.
And what of President Biden’s highly touted “infrastructure bill,” how much of the spending contained within that legislation will go to repair roads and bridges. Very little actually. The bill authorizes $1.2 trillion in new spending. Of that just $110 billion is earmarked for roads and bridges. While $110 billion is a lot of money, it represents a very small part of the overall spending contained within the legislation.
Biden’s ”infrastructure bill” lards billions on Left-wing social agenda priorities. It also is rife with regulations and restrictions designed to enforce so-called “social justice,” “equity,” and climate activist policies. The goal is furthering the fundamental reset of the American economy pushed by congressional extremists, not addressing the nation’s roads and bridges problems in a meaningful way.
What can we conclude from all of this?
First, after 30 years in the U.S. Senate and eight as Vice President Joe Biden along with Tom Wolf who has served the past seven years as governor have not only failed to address infrastructure needs but rather have through inaction and/or ineptitude contributed significantly to the problem.
Second, despite lofty rhetoric and political blame casting neither the federal nor the state administrations have developed much less implemented any coherent, comprehensive strategy for fixing our roads and bridges.
Photo ops and calls for more spending will not solve the problem. Development of a coherent transportation infrastructure policy, streamlining of the process, and competent administration will be required – and soon before more bridges end up at the bottom of ravines.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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