During his 12-year tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, which concluded last year, Peterson played a key role in stopping Gov. Edward Rendell’s attempt to turn I-80 over to the Pennsylvania Turnpike for tolling. Peterson helped defeat an I-80 toll supporter in the 75th representative district.
The federal rejection of the application to toll I-80 denies the state’s DOT “more than $300 million a year beginning in July 2010 for investment in highways and bridges,” says PennDOT Press Secretary Richard Kirkpatrick. “At a time when revenues from fuel taxes and license and vehicle fees are falling, the loss of this revenue presents serious challenges.”
The state did see a boost of $350 million in bond funding for repair of the state’s many structurally deficient bridges in the 2008-’09 budget, Jeff Kitsko points out. Kitsko, operator of the informational site PaHighways.com, says he’s heartened by the systemwide project’s go-ahead, but nervous that the bonds’ interest costs will hurt PennDOT later.
While I-80 is improved in the minds of many truckers, some owner-operators continue to punish the state for it and other roads. Chief among them are I-76, or the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and I-78, which placed ninth and tenth, respectively, in the worst segment category. “The Turnpike is a mess, all the truckers tell me,” says Peterson.
‘They’ll tear your truck apart’
Owner-operator and sometime company driver Kevin Greene of Cincinnati, who won Castrol’s 2006 Big Honkin’ Truck Makeover for his 1989 Peterbilt 379, tries to keep his jewel off the roads around Detroit. “I-94, 75, 96 – they’re always trying to work on them,” he says. “They’ll tear your truck apart.”
Paul Coulter, of Glasgow, Ky., concurs: “They’ve got a lot of potholes that are big enough to bust a tire or break a spring.” And it gets worse after a hard winter, he says.
Bill Shreck, of the Michigan Department of Transportation, says it’s no surprise that the state’s jumped in and out of the Worst Roads’ top five throughout the years. “Michigan’s been in the bottom 20 percent in highway funding for 40 years,” he says.
Keith Ledbetter of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association would change that. He points to a legislative analysis released in November that showed the state had lost “43 percent of our purchasing power,” he says, to run funding cuts and commodity price hikes.
Same old story as much of the nation, really, but among MI-ITA’s potential solutions is legislation to enable public-private partnerships (or P3s) on toll roads. Trouble is, the picture for the P3 model is dimmed by rapidly falling construction materials prices and the deflated financial markets, says Peter Samuel, editor of TollRoadsNews.com. With less capital to draw on, investment firms are less able to afford the large up-front lease payments most P3 deals hinge on, and lower construction prices put less pressure on state governments to seek additional revenue.
At the same time, those “more competitive construction prices,” says Samuel, along with the deepening recession, could increase the public’s resistance to fuel-tax hikes. That resistance, ultimately, makes state DOTs more inclined to look to P3s and other alternative funding mechanisms, he says.
‘They’re not doing anything’
Perhaps all the attention California gives to air quality control has come at the loss of attention to its highways.
Owner-operator Duane Chatlain names the Golden State the No. 1 contender for the Worst Roads crown this year. He recalls a recent drive over Donner Pass on I-80 “where you can see the wires sticking through” the road’s deteriorated surface. “All the states have bad parts, but as a whole, as a state that’s 1,000 miles long and close to 500 miles wide, I’d say they’re the worst. And they’re not doing anything with them.”