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Linking Transportation and Agriculture: Discussing Progress and Needs on Lower-Traffic Roadways

October 20, 2021 02:00 PM
By: Ashley Schoch

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This month Secretary Yassmin Gramian joined Secretary Russell Redding at a media event to discuss transportation and agriculture's important link to the state economy.  

As part of that discussion, we highlighted our Road Maintenance and Preservation (Road MaP) initiative progress. This included improvements on lower traffic roadways like those used by much of the state's agriculture industry.

 "We need reliable transportation solutions at the federal and state levels to keep our economy moving and to support the roadways that connect our farmers and our communities," Gramian said. "We've been forced to move funding from lower-traffic roadways to interstates or other high-traffic roads, and we're doing what we can to address this problem."

It's important to note that 26 percent of the PennDOT-owned roads that aren't Interstates or on the National Highway System are rated as "Poor" on the International Roughness Index. On roadways with the least amount of traffic (fewer than 2,000 vehicles) that number increases to 33 percent.

There are 21,000 miles of PennDOT-owned, low-volume bituminous roadways maintained with seal coating (oil and chip) and resurfacing, mostly in rural areas. Due to available resources, 27 percent of these roadways have not seen more than basic maintenance in up to 20 years.

As a reminder, part Road MaP's focus on rural roadways involves alternative treatments such as recycled asphalt paving (RAP). It repurposes roadway millings, either by central plant mix or by cold-in-place; higher RAP mixes of warm mix asphalts; and Flexible Base (FB) paving which mixes new aggregate with a liquid bituminous oil and places it through a paver.

As an agency, we have saved $42 million, and completed 604.7 miles of secondary road improvements from 2018 through the end of June 2021. That's 247 more miles improved using alternative treatments department-force, and contract work than through traditional approaches. 

These methods allow the paving and reinforcing of surfaces and roadway shoulders that would have seen shorter-term fixes due to available funding. Roadway conditions and access, along with bridge safety, are vital to farmers' bottom lines and efficiency.

"Investing in transportation infrastructure strengthens competitiveness across the agriculture industry. It ensures farmers, agribusinesses and food processors can safely navigate and transport items to market and into a global economy," Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. "Safe and reliable roadways help preserve farmers' bottom-lines and ensure consumers are guaranteed timely goods at a cost savings."

It's also important to note that Pennsylvania's multimodal transportation system carries approximately $1.6 trillion of goods into, within, out of, and through the state annually. With agriculture as the state's largest industry, farmers see an impact from poor roadway conditions and detours.

Without additional investment, farmers will see increased costs to repair their vehicles as wear and tear from poor roadway conditions worsen. Without continued and expanded focus on bridges, more weight restrictions, and potentially lengthy detours to and from farms may be necessary.

When farmers must deal with longer delivery times, or if their goods are damaged on the way to distribution, their costs go up. Delays could also increase the number of trucks businesses need to meet delivery schedules, diverting money that could be otherwise invested in the business and employees.

Additionally, Pennsylvania has roughly 25,400 state-maintained bridges and the department and industry partners have made progress on improving conditions. The number of state-owned bridges in poor condition has decreased from a high of 6,034 in 2008 to fewer than 2,460.

However, approximately 250 of the state-maintained bridges move into the "poor-condition" category each year due to their age and deterioration. With an aging system and without increased investment, the rate is anticipated to increase, leading to the need for full replacements or more extensive repairs.

The media event built on the recently completed work of the Transportation Revenue Options Commission, (TROC) where Secretary Gramian served as Chair and Secretary Redding was among the more than 40 members.

The TROC included transportation, economic, and community stakeholders from the public and private sectors and was tasked with developing comprehensive funding recommendations for Pennsylvania's vast transportation network.

On July 30, the TROC report was submitted to the Governor and General Assembly, presenting an overview of transportation funding in Pennsylvania and outlining the commission's review of several potential revenue sources including road user charges, tolling, redirection of funding, fees, and taxes.

Analysis of each option was provided including potential revenue options, concerns raised by commission members, and suggested next steps. Presentations and materials developed during this process can be found on the TROC page.

 For more information about transportation funding in Pennsylvania, visit penndot.gov/funding.


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