Wanted: Representatives that Represent

Why aren’t we holding our legislators accountable for crumbling roads and bridges?

Take Pennsylvania as an example. According to an article in the Pennsylvania Independent, the average bridge in the state is around 50 years old. PennDOT may have to put weight restrictions on as many as 1,200 bridges across the state. Pennsylvania lawmakers left for their summer recess without passing a $2.5 billion funding plan. Without the additional funding, PennDOT expects to spend about $1.6 billion on construction contracts for road and bridge repairs, down from $2 billion in 2012.

We know Pennsylvanians support transportation infrastructure. A February poll from Franklin and Marshall College found more than four in five registered voters believe Pennsylvania should spend more on transportation infrastructure. But only two in five supported plans to fund these repairs by uncapping the oil franchise tax, a wholesale tax that could raise gas prices and increases vehicle and driver’s fees. So do they really support it? You can’t say you support something if you’re not willing to put money behind it.

In May, the same polling group found roads and infrastructure were the 10th most important issues to voters. Just 2% said it was the most important problem facing Pennsylvania, with issues like the state’s economy, job creation, taxes and health care ranking higher.

A recent report from TRIP, a national nonprofit research group, found current road conditions in Pennsylvania cost the average driver about $1,646 in annual expenses. But will voters hold the state legislature accountable for this decrease in road repairs? Probably not.

Maybe the solution lies not in voting out the bad, but voting in the good – or least voting someone in that will get something done. As Terry Madonna, a pollster and political science professor suggests in the Pennsylvania Independent,

“People who want to run against all lawmakers will argue that they’re part of a dysfunctional process. That they’re in an institution that doesn’t function, that doesn’t work.”

It’s time to hold politicians accountable by voting them out when they show their unwillingness to change the dysfunction. We have 400 and some odd days before the next highway bill expires. Outgoing transportation secretary Ray LaHood told the National Press Club in his farewell address that it’s doubtful a new Surface Transportation Bill will be passed by the House of Representatives when the present bill expires in 2014.

Perhaps it’s time some new representatives are elected.