Worst roads: Go west

| December 12, 2008

Once again, readers say Pennsylvania has the nation’s worst roads, Texas the best.

Comedian W.C. Fields said: “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” According to the latest Overdrive Worst Roads survey,most truckers would rather not. On the whole, most would rather skip all of Pennsylvania.

For the second consecutive year and the fifth time in a decade, Pennsylvania leads our worst roads list. Among the chief complaints: the conditions of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I-78 and I-80, and poor signage. The Turnpike, also known as I-76, is further ripped for its high tolls.

On the other hand, Texas Department of Transportation officials must be thrilled with their Highway Report Card showing. The Lone Star state again leads in best highways, most overnight parking, best roads and best truck stops.

PennDOT officials are confounded why the state that gave America Hershey bars, cheese steaks and the Declaration of Independence continues to get such a bad rap. Rich Kirkpatrick, spokesman for PennDOT, says his state spent $1.3 billion on highway and bridge projects in 2004. The budget for 2005 is at an equal pace, with $139 million going toward various I-95 projects in the Philadelphia area and $43 million slated for a reconstruction of I-80 near State College.

“We’re making progress,” Kirkpatrick says. And survey participants seem to have noticed: The much-maligned I-80 is second for most improved road and appears further down the best roads list. I-81 is fifth on the most improved list. Pennsylvania doesn’t appear among the top 3 in any “worst” category, except toughest inspections.

“If you look at the nationally recognized measures for pavement smoothness, the result does not in any way match what truckers are saying in the survey,” Kirkpatrick says. “And frankly, that has always mystified us.”

On the International Roughness Index, in which lower numbers are better, the commonwealth scored 103, just above the national median of 99, Kirkpatrick says.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spokesman Carl DeFebo takes issue with the state’s worst roads ranking. His agency wrapped up two major projects in the past year and is spending $2 billion – culled from a toll increase implemented in 2004 – to completely renovate I-76 from end to end, he says.

Still, Pennsylvania leaves many truckers saddle sore. Owner-operator Bernard Linkhauer says Keystone State highways “will beat and bang you around.” The Pittsburgh-area resident says repairs along I-76 amount to a Band-Aid. “It looks good, and it lasts a little while, but then it’s back to square one again,” Linkhauer says.

He also dislikes I-76 for its tolls. From the New Jersey state line to the Ohio line, Linkhauer recently paid $110.

Signage is the pet peeve of Elizabeth Vogel, a semi-retired Pennsylvanian who owns a family trucking business. Pennsylvania’s exit signs are too close to their off ramps and force unfamiliar truckers to slow too quickly, she says.

“We’re just not up to having any decent road signs,” says Vogel, who lives in the northern logging town of Emporium. You can drive on the Turnpike for miles, she says, without seeing a sign telling you where you are and how far your destination is.

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