Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure Report Card is Pretty Bad – Looks Like Summer School!
The latest “Infrastructure Report Card” issued by the American Society of Engineers, wasn’t impressed with the Keystone State. We got a “D+” for the condition of our roads and a “D” for the condition of our transit. We all know from high school that this doesn’t bode well for graduation. In light of this, Governor Wolf has created “Restore Pennsylvania”, a $4.5 billion proposal, to improve our infrastructure. There is a lot to like about the proposal, as it includes proposals to fix a multitude of different aspects of infrastructure and even includes areas that don’t’ typically fall within the category like parks and trails. But the source of funding has not been agreed to by the legislature and that remains a big question.
The “Restore Pennsylvania” plan will spend this money in 5 priority areas:
High speed internet: Many of us take our access to high speed internet for granted but in Pennsylvania, there is a digital divide between those with access to high speed internet and those without; this portion of the proposal is focused on removing the divide. Typically, there is a perception that this divide is urban vs rural, but in fact there are 250,000 urban residents without high speed access, in addition to the 520,000 rural residents without it.
Storm preparedness and disaster recovery: Preparedness is a broad term that includes both “hard” solutions like flood control levees and dams, as well as “soft” solutions like floodplain and stream restoration. Other programs in this area include disaster relief and stormwater infrastructure. Restore Pennsylvania recognizes that the effects of climate change will significantly impact flooding and stormwater and that the state needs to be proactive in its response and upgrade infrastructure.
Downstream manufacturing, business development and energy infrastructure: “Downstream” in this instance means businesses that use energy sources like natural gas in their manufacturing process and thus are “downstream” of the actual production of the energy source. This category includes development of sites for new businesses to provide move-in ready sites, business development to attract new businesses, site selection for relocating companies, and energy efficiency. Also included in this area are essential infrastructure components like pipelines for natural gas; it will also offer grants for combined heat and power and micro-grid systems for energy efficient minded companies.
Demolition, Revitalization and Renewal: Pennsylvania has a long history of land development that has undergone cycles of economic prosperity and decline and as a result has huge numbers of blighted and abandoned buildings. In fact the state estimates that there are about 300,000 blighted buildings across the state. This priority area of Restore Pennsylvania would provide funding to establish land banks and to acquire and demolish some of these blighted buildings. Also included are additional funds for brownfield clean up and contaminant remediation (particularly relevant with all the recent news about PFAS). The last part of this area is called green infrastructure, which in this initiative includes park improvements, farm preservation, abandoned mine clean ups, trails, water systems, and wastewater systems.
Transportation: This final piece of infrastructure is the one that is most visible and impacts us on a personal level in our daily lives. This includes roads of all types – paved and unpaved. In Pennsylvania we have 25,000 miles of unpaved roads (enough to circle the globe!) - and local roads adjacent to new development. Another vital piece of transportation infrastructure included in this initiative is increased funding for public transit - for urban and rural systems (we see you Crawford Area Transportation Authority!).
What you are reading in this blog is about the extent of the details that we know at this point, currently the Governor and other state officials are traveling across the Commonwealth to talk it up (look for an event near you!). Rebuild Pennsylvania is not a part of the state’s budget negotiation, so it is removed from that annual exercise in political theater! However, the funding for this robust initiative is contingent on a severance tax on natural gas. This is a big lift in the Keystone State, one that has so far been unsuccessfully implemented.
So, while we are optimistic due to the great value that it would create and the ways it would improve our collective lives, the likelihood of the passage of the plan may be slim. As we continue to under-fund our infrastructure and as we continue to push our infrastructure to the limits, what value do we place on our quality of life, safety and new opportunities and how can we find funding to support this vision?
Don’t we want to strive for a C or maybe a B?
Eastwick Solutions develops revitalization strategies for towns and municipalities, activates rivers and trails through recreation, education, and environmental programs to spur economic development in nearby towns, provides Main Street marketing to supplement existing staff, engages stakeholders of all levels to ensure buy-in and support, stimulates economic development strategies leveraging nature-based assets (rivers, trails, agriculture, events), designs and develops nature-based asset programming, events and activities to maintain engagement and build affinity, writes grants for project-related funding, and conducts asset assessments to build image, programs, and events around.