The Pennsylvania and national chapters of the Public Interest Research Group, commonly known as PIRG, have weighed in on the issue of spending highway money on new capacity vs. fixing what we already have.
So has AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the organization representing state transportation departments.
And they are on opposite sides of the road.
PIRG estimates that drivers in Pennsylvania pay an extra $346 per year on car repairs due to highways and bridges in disrepair, and says that figure will continue to rise if we don't solve our current transportation funding crisis. It has released a national report that criticizes policies that favor building new roadways while neglecting existing bridges and roads.
In doing so, it gave credit to PennDOT, which has had a policy for two years of favoring existing repairs over new capacity.
"The current administration has made a real push to repair the commonwealth's startling backlog of structurally deficient bridges, and has been a leader in recent years for how to refocus transportation funding priorities," said Megan DeSmedt, PennPIRG state director. "Nationally we still have a long way to go. It is a waste of scarce resources to continue spending billions on new highways while existing roadways need repair. It's like adding a guest room on your home when the roof is leaking."
"With 5,646 structurally deficient bridges and more than 6,000 miles of pavement in poor condition, Pennsylvania must remain committed to fixing what we have. We are making progress, but much more needs to be done," said PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler.
AASHTO released its own report this week saying that travel "is greatly outdistancing available room on the roads." "Transportation Reboot: Restarting America's Most Essential Operating System" calls for increasing the nation's transportation capacity.
"Transit and intercity passenger rail investments alone cannot begin to meet the nation's transportation needs," said AASHTO's executive director, John Horsley. "A more balanced approach is needed that recognizes how Americans choose to travel. Today 95 percent of passenger travel in America is made by car, motorcycle and truck, and 93 percent of freight by value moves on our highways. Expanding highway capacity is not the only thing that will be required to meet future mobility needs, but it will be a principal part of what will be required."