At a crossroads, can Pa. act like a real commonwealth?

 An overpass at the end of Waverly Road, built in 1951, handles more than 40,000 cars per day on the Schuylkill Expressway.  (Nathaniel Hamilton/For NewsWorks)

An overpass at the end of Waverly Road, built in 1951, handles more than 40,000 cars per day on the Schuylkill Expressway. (Nathaniel Hamilton/For NewsWorks)

Pennsylvania is crumbling, both literally and figuratively.

Pennsylvania has more structurally deficient bridges, both in raw numbers and by percentage, than any other state in the union.

This depressing statistic comes from a study by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Its fiscal foundations are shaky, too.

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Two out of every five Pennsylvanians live in a city that has been officially declared distressed under a law called Act 47.

Pennsylvania’s system for funding public education is also on the edge of toppling, not just in Philadelphia, whose woes are the most discussed, but in small cities, farm communities and aging suburbs across the Commonwealth.


I’ve always been proud and inspired to live in a place that called itself by that term, rather than the inert word “state.”

In a commonwealth, people ought to understand what is really of value, what really constitutes wealth, and to understand that they hold the most valued things not individually, but in common, for the general good.

This might be the area in which Pennsylvania’s is most frayed, cracked and crumbling. And the most distressing.

Our sense that we’re in this together, that we hold both assets and problems in common, is little evident in the conduct of the state’s public affairs. Public goods are treated as private, consumer matters, or ignored all together. Our politics uses cheap tricks and old bogeyman to pit cities vs. suburbs, east vs. west, group vs. group.

Yet, our commonwealth remains endowed with enough assets that it can address its problems and restore its old vibrancy. It is beautiful, full of natural resources, still a great, central location for those looking to move goods and provide services. Its cities benefit from youthful generations’ taste for urban life, in all its grit and variety.

The commonwealth could be healthier, if it had a firmer, more honest grasp of its problems, their root causes and the real assets it can use to address them.

We in the state’s public media like to think we contribute in some small way to those assets.  A new initiative of ours, Keystone Crossroads, is public media’s bid to help with the work of repairing what’s crumbling. 

The project will combine the efforts of WHYY, WITF in Harrisburg, WPSU in State College and WESA in Pittsburgh. Together, we’ve hired an eight-member team – some experienced veterans, some talented and eager young people – to take a deep, sustained dive into the problems and potential of Pennsylvania’s cities and towns.

Our work will be data-driven, solutions-oriented and full of the voices of ordinary Pennsylvanians. It will be presented through radio, web, television, social media and public events.

The team is raring to get started. And we’d like to hear from you. What issues would you like us to delve into? What problems need more explaining? What inspiring places, people or programs should we be sure to check out? Let us know.

Email me at or use the comments section below.

We’re really interested in your ideas. And stay tuned for more word on Keystone Crossroads.

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