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Pennsylvania Civil Engineers Give the State’s Infrastructure a C- Grade

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently released the 2022 Report Card for Pennsylvania's Infrastructure at three congruent news conferences across the state, including Harrisburg, Lehigh Valley, and Pittsburgh, with 15 categories of infrastructure receiving an overall grade of a C-. This is the same grade issued by the council in its 2018 report. A C- means Pennsylvania’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition and requires attention.

Pennsylvania’s aviation and rail networks are helping to drive economic growth in the region, and an improved roadway network is helping increase efficiency for the regional and national economies, but an aging infrastructure network and struggling water systems threaten the health, safety, and welfare of the region. Civil engineers graded aviation (B-), bridges (D+), dams (C), drinking water (D), energy (C), hazardous waste (B-), levees (C), parks (C+), ports (C+), rail (C), roads (C-), solid waste (C+), stormwater (D), transit (D), and wastewater (D-).

“This report shows that Pennsylvania’s infrastructure has seen some noteworthy improvements and that our lawmakers are prioritizing the built environment, but out-of-sight, out-of-mind systems such as water and wastewater pipelines are lacking the necessary attention,” said David DiGioia, Chair, 2022 Report Card for Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure. “With help from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we could improve our communities for generations if we double down on investment and close our funding gaps across all sectors included in this report.”

Bridges (D+) and Roads (C-)
Despite a 4.5 percent decrease in the number of poor condition bridges (D+), Pennsylvania contains the second highest number of poor condition bridges among states: 14 percent of the inventory, nearly double the national average of 7.3 percent. The 2021 Bipartisan infrastructure Law will provide $13 billion in funding for roads and bridges over five years to help offset these. However, even that elevated level falls well short of the $18 billion annual need. National supply chain issues have induced high inflation, which also reduces the spending power of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) as it looks to improve bridge conditions. Currently, Pennsylvania has 1,784 weight restricted bridges and 285 closed bridges, often impacting the timeliness of emergency response services and freight movement.

The passage of Act 89 in 2013 resulted in the implementation and completion of nearly 3,800 roadway (C-) improvement projects, with nearly 3,100 additional efforts underway and in the PennDOT 12-Year Program as of May 2022. This contributed to the roads grade improving from a D+ in the 2018 report. Despite this major undertaking, there remains an $8 billion shortfall of unmet needs. Pennsylvania ranks 45th of the 50 states in terms of congestion delays, imperiling key freight routes amid a supply chain crisis. Roadway pavement conditions have been largely stable over the past decade, with less than 10 percent of the inventory being considered in poor condition.

Aviation (B-) and Rail (C)
Tied for the highest graded category in the report, Pennsylvania’s aviation (B-) network plays a major role in the national supply chain and economy. Airports in Pennsylvania generate over $10 billion in annual payroll and over $23 billion in economic activity. Over the last four years, the state’s airports have made significant progress, including implementation of Pittsburgh International Airport’s (PIT) Terminal Modernization Program, the expansion and planned expansion of cargo facilities, and a focus on resiliency projects including a micro-grid at PIT and a solar field at Northeast Philadelphia Airport (PNE). These investments led aviation to see a bump in grades from the C+ it received in the 2018 report.

Pennsylvania’s rail (C) category saw its grade increase from a C- in 2018 and is the sum of the thriving freight rail network (B) and the passenger rail network (C-), which is hampered by a major funding gap. Most of Pennsylvania’s 6,700-mile freight rail network, which carried an estimated 194 million tons of freight in 2017, is in good to excellent condition and is primarily funded by private operators. In 2019, Amtrak intercity service served approximately 6.7 million riders in Pennsylvania. Amtrak and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) have recently completed several major projects, including a new Middletown train station along the Amtrak Keystone Corridor between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Drinking Water (D) and Wastewater (D-)
Despite recent investment in water main (D) replacement and improvement in identifying vulnerability to failures for prioritization of repairs, Pennsylvania’s public water systems are projected to have a $10.2 billion funding gap over the next 10 years, a number only very slightly offset with recent federal actions to provide infrastructure funding. One emerging concern nationally as well as in Pennsylvania is a class of chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), otherwise known as “forever chemicals,” which have been linked to causing cancer and other serious illnesses. In 2021 roughly one-third of 412 Pennsylvania drinking water systems detected PFAS levels higher than permissible by the EPA health advisory. There remain hundreds of thousands of residential lead pipes still in use in Pennsylvania, although communities have begun taking action. In March 2020, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) agreed to remove thousands of lead water pipes by 2026.
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Aging wastewater (D-) management systems threaten the state’s natural environment and public health. Pennsylvania has among the most combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in the nation. CSO’s refer to combined sewer and sanitary sewer lines overflowing, usually due to severe rain events, resulting in untreated human and industrial waste, as well as other pollutants, entering into the environment. The average age of most sewer systems is approaching 75 years with many pipes over 100 years old. The Commonwealth has a funding gap of $8.4 billion over the next 10 years to repair existing systems, upgrade existing systems to meet regulatory requirements, control CSOs, address illicit Sanitary Sewer Overflows, and construct new or expand existing systems to meet increasing demand. Available funding over that time is estimated to be $900 million, only about one-tenth of the required annual investment.

The report also includes calls to action to raise the grades, which include:

Plan and Fund Infrastructure Systems for Flexible Schedules and Distributed Supply Chains
The COVID-19 pandemic featured a permanent move toward hybrid work and flexible hours. Roads, bridges, and transit systems need to offer high-quality service all-day and all-week. Supply chains carrying goods for purchase and manufacturing experience load unpredictably. Ports, inland waterways, rail, roads, and bridges require capacity and resilience so demand or supply shocks do not imperil the whole network. These changes require funding available for capital and operations expenses, short- and long-term rethinking.
Implement Federal Funding and Reconsider Methods of State and Local Budgeting
Even with large-scale federal investments in infrastructure — the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, Chips and Science Act — large funding gaps remain in Pennsylvania’s systems. A wise path effectively implements formula funding and aggressively pursues competitive grants from Washington while reevaluating the ways Pennsylvania generates revenue. The Transportation Revenue Options Commission (TROC) and Drive Smart Act are necessary to identify all funding options for the future in transportation with less congestion, zero traffic deaths, and no net greenhouse gases.
Workforce Challenges Must be Addressed as a Limiting Factor on Infrastructure Improvements
A surge of retirements at state and local government agencies is draining institutional knowledge right when project development and implementation are crucial to the best use of a historic funding surge. Agencies are struggling to retain younger engineers and other technical experts as they advance, especially women. The workforce crisis hitting construction and skilled labor further hampers implementation.
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