Pa.’s roads and bridges are aging poorly. Here’s how Shapiro and Mastriano plan to fix them

Pennsylvania’s infrastructure — bridges, roads, sewer systems, public transit — is aging poorly. Do Josh Shapiro or Doug Mastriano have a plan to fix it?

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File photo: In this photo made on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, a lane is blocked by construction equipment as work continues on the Birmingham Bridge that spans the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

File photo: In this photo made on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, a lane is blocked by construction equipment as work continues on the Birmingham Bridge that spans the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Ask us: As Election Day draws near, what questions do you have?

If there is one thing all Pennsylvanians can agree on — regardless of where they live, what political party they support, whether they prefer Wawa or Sheetz — it’s that the roads are terrible.

The Pennsylvania State Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers agrees. They gave the Keystone State a lackluster C- in its 2018 infrastructure report card, which is issued every four years.

Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican Doug Mastriano would both have to find ways to improve the state’s roads, bridges, and other infrastructure if elected to be the next governor.

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Shapiro, the state attorney general, told WHYY News in an interview that rebuilding and improving Pennsylvania’s framework, from the city of Philadelphia all the way to the most rural communities, is top of mind.

Mastriano, a state senator, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Here’s where the candidates stand on some of the major infrastructure issues.

Pa.’s bridges and roads are aging. Who has a plan to fix it?

PennDOT’s closure of a small bridge in Delaware County is causing a big headache for Ridley Park residents and small business owners. While the repairs will happen, the timeline has been marred by delays. However, this story is not unique to just one community. It’s the story of communities across the state.

Pennsylvania has the third largest number of bridges in the country, with more than 25,000 owned by the state. Nearly 10% of those state-owned bridges are in poor condition. With the average age of bridges in the state system coming in at more than 50, the bridges will only worsen if the issues are not addressed.

The effort to repair and maintain the bridges is going at a snail’s pace. This is mostly because of an unusual funding arrangement which has some money from the state’s fuel tax meant for bridge and road repair going to fund the state police.

A 2019 report from then-Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale found that the money transferred to state police totaled more than $4.25 billion over a span of just six years. The state Legislature has yet to agree upon a solution.

Shapiro wants to take a two-pronged approach to address Pennsylvania’s ailing bridges. First, he wants to take advantage of federal money to boost funding, but that requires a state match, he said.

“So, we’ve got to make sure that our infrastructure dollars here in the state go further than they are now,” Shapiro said. “​​I think one way we can accomplish that is by creating a dedicated funding stream for our state police, and increasing funding for law enforcement at the same time. By doing that, we can decouple the state police from the gas tax revenues and leave more dollars available for infrastructure investments.”

The Commonwealth Court recently batted down plans to add tolls to nine major bridges to address funding issues. Mastriano supported the decision in a written statement released in March.

“More tolls and fees are not the answer to our PennDOT funding problem. We need to ensure that the money that already goes to the Motor License fund can only be allocated to road and bridge maintenance,” Mastriano wrote.

Where do the candidates stand on water issues?

With climate change fueling even more devastating storms, huge rain events are growing increasingly possible. Last September, the remnants of Hurricane Ida drenched Southeastern Pennsylvania with more rain than it could handle.

The supercharged storm exposed the Delaware Valley’s lack of a comprehensive stormwater management plan. Residents and small business owners are still dealing with the costly aftermath.

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Mastriano is a vocal opponent of Pennsylvania’s stormwater management regulations. In a 2019 op-ed, he called the state Department of Environmental Protection’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act “extreme.”

In particular, Mastriano took aim at the state’s regulation known as municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) which requires municipalities to construct a separate system for sewage and stormwater. His stance is that the DEP has conflated water quality requirements with stormwater management “beyond the original scope of the law.”

“It now taxes impervious surfaces (which are not included in the Clean Water Act) and it applies MS4 requirements to any stormwater source, whether or not it discharges into navigable waterways,” Mastriano wrote. “This oppressive government overreach has resulted in a program that is crushing our municipalities. MS4 was never intended to force small towns to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on what is essentially a new public utility that gobbles up taxpayer money whether or not it rains!”

Shapiro believes that the aging water systems in Pennsylvania are destined to fail without the proper updates and repairs.

“In fact, Pennsylvania’s system failure rate is 10 percentage points higher than the national average when it comes to sewer systems. As governor, I’ll include a line item in my first budget to increase the resources available to PennVest. And what PennVest is is the state entity that makes low interest loans and grants to municipalities to build out and refurbish old wastewater management systems. So, this will help our municipalities improve the stormwater management systems in their regions,” Shapiro said.

He’s also putting a spotlight on replacing lead pipes across the state. He said that his track record as the state Attorney General speaks for itself.

“Folks need to understand that we have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water in Pennsylvania. It says so in Article 1, Section 27 of our state constitution. Yet, 9,000 Pennsylvania children experience lead poisoning every year, because of these pipes. My record is clear. I brought criminal charges against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, because of their failure to both address the lead in the pipes for drinking water and to mitigate the risk,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro believes that by using federal funding to replace lead pipes, the state can generate 56,000 jobs for Pennsylvanians.

He added that he would also like to create a capital fund to invest in Pennsylvania’s schools.

“We have too many school buildings that are just unsafe and unhealthy for young people to learn in and we need a dedicated funding stream for those repairs,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro on public transit

Public transportation already receives big support in Pennsylvania. The state invests $1.6 billion annually into its many passenger rail and bus services.

However, that doesn’t mean things are necessarily in tip-top shape either. The era of the Pennsylvania Railroad is long gone.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) needs updating. The new Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority (SRPRA) wants to resurrect the historic Reading Railroad.

All of that requires funding.

“I think we must ensure that public transportation is properly funded not only to keep up with the infrastructure we have, but to expand into new areas and encourage more people to use mass transit,” Shapiro said.

He also expressed support for microtransit as well as expanding the senior transit program to help older Pennsylvanians get around.

Shapiro, Mastriano on energy

Pennsylvania is the third largest supplier of total energy to other states. However, the state’s energy focus has been primarily dependent on natural gas.

Shapiro said that he wants to change that. He wants to take advantage of Pennsylvania’s position as “an energy powerhouse” and lead the nation — particularly in green energy jobs.

“We need to protect the jobs we have and create new ones. I’ll be investing in clean energy by updating and upgrading alternative energy portfolio standards — which right now requires 8% renewable energy. I’ll be increasing that to 30% by the year 2030. So, that will allow us to protect the jobs and the stability we have now in the energy marketplace and create thousands of new green energy jobs of tomorrow,” Shapiro said.

Mastriano wants to double down on Pennsylvania’s existing energy economy. He also wants the state to ditch Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-powered plants and suspend Pennsylvania’s re-entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

In May, Mastriano introduced Senate Bill 1219 to do just that.

“With our abundant resources, Pennsylvania should be largely immune to energy cost volatility. Cumbersome regulations, permitting delays, and misguided restrictions are handicapping the potential of our energy sector.  Many companies simply choose to invest in states that are more energy friendly. Market volatility will not go away anytime soon. It’s time to take steps now to assert energy independence,” Mastriano said in a written statement announcing the legislation.

Where do the candidates stand on broadband internet access?

It’s the 21st century, but some Pennsylvanians are still without reliable internet. More than 800,000 people across the state lack access to high-speed internet.

The issue disproportionately affects rural communities. However, even some suburban and urban municipalities are not entirely spared.

“We need to expand broadband to ensure that every home and business and school has access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet,” Shapiro said.

Mastriano is also a supporter of increased broadband internet access. In March, he released a statement after his senate district received grant funding from the Commonwealth Financing Authority to expand broadband internet.

“I’m pleased that these unserved areas of Franklin County will now have the infrastructure needed to ensure faster internet connection. In today’s competitive economic environment, access to high-speed internet is crucial for our business owners and farmers. I look forward to the continued expansion of high-speed internet throughout the 33rd District,” he wrote.

Additionally, the state senator co-sponsored Senate Bill 442 which, if passed, would require the state Department of General Services to complete an inventory of state property to determine where telecommunications companies could install cell towers.

Senate Democrats opposed the bill, not on the grounds of its goal, but because the Department of General Services which claims that it had already completed the inventory, making the bill redundant.

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