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Year in Review: Pennsylvania transportation

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(The Center Square) — Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure is a constant focus of legislative attention, fitting for a state with multitudes of bridges, roads, weather, and terrain that means unending maintenance costs.

From public transit funding to electric vehicles and pedestrian safety, the General Assembly, local and state officials, and the public have prioritized the following topics in 2023.

Budgetary problems, cost-effectiveness

In April, an annual highway report produced by the Reason Foundation ranked Pennsylvania 41st for highway performance and efficiency.

The commonwealth has made some progress: from the condition of its roads, reasonable spending increases in line with inflation, and traffic congestion, Pennsylvania has improved. Fatalities, however, have gone up after declining for decades. The report argued that changing management practices could cut costs by as much as 30%.

Beyond road infrastructure, public transit is feeling some postpandemic pressure.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, SEPTA faces an almost $250 million budget hole starting in 2025. Though ridership is returning, pandemic-era federal aid is winding down without local or state funds to replace it. In Pittsburgh, ridership remains lower than prepandemic numbers as other costs rise.

For some state and federal grants available for transportation improvements, small towns and rural areas get overlooked. PennDOT’s State Transportation Commission and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania warned in December that a lack of staff and capacity means that small localities don’t win grant funds. Without greater state support, those dynamics are unlikely to change.

PennDOT accountability

Beyond grants, local officials have also complained of PennDOT ignoring concerns. Rep. Tarah Probst, D-Stroudsburg, introduced a bill in March to track municipal complaints, such as issues with state-owned roads. It has failed to get any traction in the General Assembly.

Road safety

Pennsylvania has had a slight improvement on traffic fatalities, with deaths falling 4% from 2021 to 2022 after a years-long uptick. PennDOT and the General Assembly have called more public attention to school and pedestrian safety as well, advocating for the necessity of school-bus cameras to keep children safe. Speed cameras, too, are becoming more commonplace, including in active work zones.

In addition to cameras, broader considerations of road design are at play. In December, PennDOT’s Pedestrian and Pedalcycle Advisory Committee emphasized that design does more to control speed more important than things like cameras.

The public can expect truck parking expansion, too, with PennDOT looking at ways to add more parking availability into economic development projects, especially around areas like Philadelphia.

The Center Square has also given a rundown of this year’s events affecting electric vehicles, from subsidies to infrastructure to private ownership.

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