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Pennsylvania gets C- for infrastructure

Pennsylvania has taken some steps to improve its infrastructure, but the commonwealth still gets a grade of C- from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which this morning unveiled its latest state report card on infrastructure.

The ASCE produces state report cards every four years. Pennsylvania got a C- grade in the last report card, in 2014.

Despite the unchanged grade, engineering society officials said Pennsylvania’s infrastructure has benefited over the last four years from Act 89, a state transportation funding law signed in 2013.

The law has increased spending on roads, bridges and transit systems, resulting in 2,600 projects that have been completed or currently are in progress

“We’re moving in the right direction,” said state Rep. John Taylor (R-Philadelphia), who helped lead the fight for Act 89. “Despite the positive trends, we still have a long way to go.”

Taylor, who is retiring and did not seek re-election this year, said he hopes to see a comprehensive infrastructure plan emerge at the federal level, which may prompt more state discussions on funding. He also believes a new Act 89 funding package will become necessary in Pennsylvania in the next few years to help address ongoing transportation needs across the commonwealth.

The Trump administration put infrastructure at the top of its priority list coming into office, but efforts to advance a public-private spending plan stalled ahead of the midterm election. 

In the 2018 report card, the ASCE gave Pennsylvania its best grade — a B — for freight rail. The worst grade was a D- for wastewater.

Pennsylvania received seven D grades on this report card, the same as in 2014.

The ASCE said significant funding is needed for Pennsylvania’s aging sewer systems, as most are approaching 70 years old. The water and wastewater sector has seen steady privatization over the last few years as large utilities such as Pennsylvania American Water and York Water acquire smaller municipal systems.

However, society officials said it’s “too early to tell” what impact those privatization deals will have on future report cards. If those companies invest in system maintenance, grades may improve by 2022.

The ongoing goal of the report cards, which were first issued in 2006, is to keep infrastructure funding top of mind for politicians.

As part of the score card, the ASCE provides recommendations for future improvement. One of the solutions proposed in the report card is to broaden the use of vehicle registration fees collected by PennDOT under Act 89. A $5 fee is currently collected at the time a vehicle is registered and used for county-owned roads and bridge improvements.

ASCE wants to see the legislation modified so those fees could be used for multiple modes of transportation to help reduce traffic congestion.

The report also encourages municipalities to implement user fees to fund operation, maintenance and upgrades of stormwater systems. Indeed, many municipalities are looking at imposing stormwater fees on homes and businesses, including local governments in Central Pennsylvania.

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