Report: Pa. ranks 39th nationwide for the condition, cost-effectiveness of its highways

It could be worse — we could be the Garden State, which ranks dead last

By: - November 28, 2021 6:30 am

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf at a 2017 news conference announcing highway improvements in southeastern Pennsylvania (Commonwealth Media Services photo)

Sure, Pennsylvania’s roads are bad — but are they that bad?

Well, we’re better than New Jersey, so there’s that.

Pennsylvania ranks 39th nationwide for the condition and cost-effectiveness of its highway system, according to new research by the Libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation. And while the state’s roads may have deteriorated in the last 12 months, Pennsylvania hung onto the same ranking it had last year, according to the report.

For the purposes of comparison, the Garden State, land of the jug-handle interchange, full-service gas, and Taylor Pork Roll (whatever that is) finished dead last, at 50th in the nation, for the condition and cost-effectiveness of its highways, according to Reason’s research.

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But before you get too celebratory, Pennsylvania finished behind Ohio (24th), West Virginia (30th) and Maryland (38th), but ahead of  Delaware (44th) and New York (46th), the report showed.

So what happened? Here’s a look, by the numbers:

The state finishes in the bottom 10 of states for its structurally deficient bridges and its urban congestion. More than 15 percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, according to the report. That’s higher than New York (10 percent) and three times higher than Ohio (5 percent). When it comes to traffic congestion, Pennsylvania does better than New York. But the state’s 35.53 peak hours spent in traffic congestion is seven times higher than that faced by motorists in Ohio (5.68 hours).

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The state ranks 22nd nationwide for its overall fatality rate; 46th for its structurally deficient bridges; 45th in traffic congestion; 43rd for the condition of interstate pavement in urban areas, and 36th for the condition of its interstate pavement in rural areas, the report found.

At $102,329 per-mile of state-controlled road, the state ranks 35th nationwide for total spending, per-mile, and 24th in capital and bridge costs per-mile. And Pennsylvania’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the fifth largest highway system in the country, according to the report.

(Source: The Reason FoundatIon)

All told, the Keystone State finishes in the bottom 20 of all 50 states in 13 categories included in the report. The only place it finishes in the top 30 of states are in three fatality rankings.

“It is fair to say the state is not the highest performer in our study. However, given its northeast neighborhood, where costs tend to be higher and overall road quality tends to be lower, Pennsylvania’s performance is acceptable,” the report’s authors observed.

How can it improve?

“Pennsylvania needs to reduce its percentage of structurally deficient bridges and its urbanized area congestion. Given the poor condition of its bridges and its mediocre pavement condition, the state might considering reprioritizing its spending to focus more on roadway and bridge maintenance,” Baruch Feigenbaum, the lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, said in a statement.

“While it may be challenging for Pennsylvania to have low costs and roadways and bridges in good condition, the state needs to prioritize bringing its infrastructure to a state of good repair,” he added.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.