Cutting highway and bridge work by 25 percent in any given year, and then sustaining it in the years ahead, would cost Pennsylvania $1.25 billion in lost economic activity over a five-year period and put as many as 9,600 jobs permanently at risk, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) chief economist told state lawmakers at a July 31 hearing in Harrisburg.
Dr. Alison Premo Black was invited to testify before the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation committee based on a report she authored on behalf the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors. It looked at the potential impact of a decrease in the state’s highway and bridge investment from the current $4.3 billion market to $3.8 billion in 2017.
“In this scenario, Pennsylvania contractors will demand fewer materials, equipment and supplies as the overall market opportunities decline and they have fewer projects backlogged,” Black explained.
According to the report, just under 1,000 jobs in the retail sector could be at risk. Another 900 jobs related to other administrative and professional services could be impacted. Nearly eight percent of the job losses could be in the manufacturing sector, and the healthcare industry could lose over 600 jobs.
“This would come at a time when investing in Pennsylvania’s infrastructure and economy is extremely important,” she said, noting that of the Commonwealth’s 28,000 miles of roadway eligible for federal aid, 25 percent are rated not acceptable and need major repairs or replacement. Over 40 percent of the bridges in Pennsylvania are rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete — well above the national average of 23 percent.
Black noted her analysis did not take into account the important long-term benefits of infrastructure investment, or the foregone opportunities the Pennsylvania economy would lose. In economics literature, there is a link between state and local economic growth, and highway and bridge investment.
“A cut in Penn DOT funding could mean that the Commonwealth’s highway and bridge network would be less efficient in the future. This would increase transportation costs, both time and money, for everyone that uses the system,” Black said. “Businesses looking to relocate to Pennsylvania may look at the decline in investment as a disincentive and consider moving elsewhere.”