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Lawmakers need new approach to Pa. road woes

It seems appropriate that the political division responsible for the Pennsylvania government’s inertia often is described relative to Interstate Route 80, which divides the state roughly in half from east to west.

Political analysts often talk about issues regarding their impact “above or below 80.”

The reference is to the political differences between most of the state’s major population centers south of the interstate, and the vast rural areas that mostly are north of it.

That divide particularly is germane to transportation policy, and shows up in a new analysis by the Libertarian Reason Foundation. It found that, despite having the highest fuels taxes among the states to fund transportation infrastructure, Pennsylvania ranked 35th in terms of cost-effectiveness.

According to the researchers, Pennsylvania ranks 25th for its overall fatality rate; 46th in structurally deficient bridges; 35th in traffic congestion; 32nd in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 32nd in rural Interstate pavement condition.

That middling governance results from legislators pandering to special interests and parochial interests at the expense of the commonwealth.

There are several rational policy steps that the Legislature should take for cost-effectiveness.

First, the government continues to use more than $700 million a year from the Motor License Fund, which is supposed to be used for transportation projects, to fund state police.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed to at least mitigate that absurdity by assessing a fee on municipal governments, on a sliding scale determined on population, that refuse to fund their own police departments and free-ride on state police.

Rather than freeing transportation money for transportation, however, too many legislators pander to their local interest in free police coverage.

Wolf also has proposed a $4.5 billion infrastructure plan, using a moderate tax on natural gas extraction to pay off bonds. But too many lawmakers continue to pander to the industry at the expense of civic improvements.

Perhaps one day, lawmakers can reach consensus so that the state’s road network — the fourth-largest nationally in terms of state-controlled miles — will serve to unite rather than divide the commonwealth.

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