Pennsylvania annually comes up about $3.5 billion short in meeting the needs of the state's aging transportation infrastructure.
The gap is the result of inadequate funding in the past, but it's growing because of a decline in fuel tax revenue and the generally poor economy, according to the Transportation Advisory Commission.
The shortfall could reach $7.5 billion a year in the next decade without action, the commission warned last summer.
How bad is it?
Just look at our bridges.
Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of structurally deficient state-owned bridges in the country -- about 25 percent, according to a report released last year by a Washington, D.C.-based transportation reform coalition.
Just fixing all of those spans would cost $8.7 billion, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman said.
The Transportation Advisory Commission, tasked by Gov. Tom Corbett with finding funds to deal with this crisis, recommended increasing driver fees and fines, as well as things like doubling the times between renewal of drivers licenses and vehicle registrations and tolling some roads.
So far, though, nothing has been done.
It's understandable some people, such as York County Commissioner Steve Chronister, are getting frustrated.
Chronister fired off a letter to PennDOT District 8 -- copied to Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch, Corbett, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and the entire York County state legislative delegation -- complaining about the lack of maintenance on state-owned roads in the county.
His main gripe, however, wasn't about bridges -- York County ranks 38th out of the state's 67 counties in terms of structurally deficient state-owned spans -- or even crumbling roadways.
Chronister's beef is with weeds sprouting up on state-maintained medians and in cloverleaf exchanges.
"... Disgusting," he said.
Not only does it create an eyesore for visitors and residents, the taller weeds can create line-of-sight hazards for drivers, Chronister said.
District 8 spokesman Greg Penny said the state is doing the best it can with the resources available, acknowledging the frequency and area of mowing have been reduced due to budget constraints.
"It sounds like they're asking for a higher level of service, and it's difficult to do under the financial restraints we have," Penny said. "We will review the letter and as necessary maybe meet to more specifically find out what the complaints are, but we are limited in what we can do because of the financial restraints we're under."
Allow us to say what the spokesman did not: A quarter of Pennsylvania's bridges are in desperate need of repair -- and this guy wants to talk about weeds?
Although symptomatic of the state's deteriorating transportation infrastructure, untidy medians probably are not the department's highest priority.
In the past, Chronister said, he sent cleanup crews from the York County Prison to pull weeds and pick up trash, but it took so long to get permission from the state he decided to send a letter this year instead.
We suggest he has PennDOT's attention now, and should try again to get permission for the prison work crews to do the work.
The best solution, of course, is for our legislators and governor to finally act on the Transportation Advisory Commission's recommendations, which would address all of our transportation needs -- from bridge repair to roadside weeds.