A few years ago, I conducted research for my independent study during my senior year at Lafayette College. My study was part of the 2006 Infrastructure Report Card for the State of Pennsylvania. Living in one of the oldest states in the union as well as a state that has frequent freeze-thaw cycles, I did not have high hopes for the grades the roads and bridges would yield based on their condition, performance, capacity, and funding needs. Turns out, I was correct. Pennsylvania roads received a grade of “D” (meaning poor on the grading schedule) while the bridges did slightly better with a grade of “C” (meaning mediocre). The release of the report card caused commotion and called for government officials to fund infrastructure maintenance programs. In 2009, the Obama Administration provided $27,115,533,955 through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) for Transportation projects around the country, with Pennsylvania receiving $1,098,699,760. In 2010, the American Society of Civil Engineers published the 2010 Infrastructure Report Card for the State of Pennsylvania. I was eager to see the results from the four years of infrastructure improvements. Sadly, I was disappointed. The bridge rating remained a “C” while the roads grade dropped to a “D-”. I was determined to find out why this was the case. It turns out that although the funding from the ARRA was helpful, it is not nearly enough for the upkeep and maintenance of Pennsylvania’s 22,280 bridges and 40,000 state and 76,000 local miles of roadway.
Infrastructure failures in recent history such as the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minnesota in 2007 and the levees of New Orleans remind us of how important infrastructure is to our daily lives and how devastating it is when it fails to operate correctly. As engineers, we are responsible for the public safety of those who use the infrastructure every day. Innovative solutions for funding are needed to ensure the health and welfare of the traveling public.
Now our elected officials in Harrisburg and Washington DC face unprecedented budget challenges. They try to place a value on the needs and wants of our society. As a member of the public and fellow tax payer, I encourage you to find your legislator and write to urge them to ensure the future of Pennsylvania’s infrastructure by making sure funds are allocated to protect the safety of the traveling public. Sometimes waiting until something breaks to fix it may not be the best solution.