Infrastructure jobs are a boon for local economies, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution.
Brookings defined infrastructure workers as people who design, build, maintain or operate public transportation, energy and water facilities, and other public service infrastructure. Some examples include railroad conductors, truck drivers and telecommunications equipment installers.
Infrastructure jobs generally don’t require a lot of higher education and they tend to pay higher wages than other jobs that don’t require advanced degrees, says Brookings researcher Joseph Kane. Brookings found that only 12 percent of infrastructure workers across the country had bachelor’s degrees or higher.
Kane says building up a state’s infrastructure goes beyond physical improvements such as bridges and highways, and beyond short-term job creation.
“We’re not only investing in these physical structures, but we’re really investing in opportunities for workers who are looking for a way to get a foothold into the economy,” Kane says.
In 2012, Pennsylvania employed 624,000 infrastructure workers, according to the report. Neighboring New Jersey had about 420,000 infrastructure jobs. Ohio had 546,000.
Despite its high number of infrastructure workers, Pennsylvania’s roads, bridges, and facilities aren’t holding up that well. In 2014, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) graded the state’s infrastructure on several fronts.
It gave the state’s roads a D-, because more than 44 percent of them were in “fair” or “poor” condition as of 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
It gave bridges a D+, noting that 23 percent of Pa.’s state- and locally-owned bridges were “structurally deficient” as of 2013. That doesn’t mean they’re falling apart or unsafe to drive on, but they’re in need of repair.
PennDOT tracks bridges slightly differently than the ASCE. It includes smaller bridges, and counts state and local bridges separately, for example. By the department’s count, about 16 percent of Pa.’s state-owned bridges and 35 percent of its locally-owned bridges are structurally deficient. The state has lowered its percentage of deficient bridges, repairing more than 1,500 of them from 2008 to 2013.
The highest grade Pennsylvania got from the ASCE was a B for the health of its freight rail system.
The ASCE says the state Transportation Funding Bill passed in 2013 will help road and bridge conditions somewhat, but the state will need more funding. Under the law, Pennsylvania will invest about $1.5 billion in roads and bridges over five years. The state hopes to create 50,000 new jobs.