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Oyler: Potholes show infrastructure funding deserves more attention

March 22, 2018 GMT

The students in the senior design projects program at the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh have just completed a workshop on infrastructure funding, a subject that is particularly relevant for all civil engineers.

The decaying condition of the infrastructure is especially obvious in our area this winter, a season that has brought a new meaning to the term “pothole.” My personal candidate for the worst pothole in Pittsburgh is the one in the middle of Forbes Avenue as you approach Craft Avenue from the west. It has been filled, at least temporarily, recently, but at its peak created monumental chaos. Evidence of its destructive potential was the continuously growing collection of hubcaps stacked against the curbs.

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It is not surprising that the students concluded that a significant increase in investment in our infrastructure would be desirable. In addition to improving everyone’s quality of life, such an investment would provide a positive boost to the economy and generate meaningful new jobs in engineering and construction.

In support of this workshop I decided to contact the two major candidates in the local special election for a U.S. House seat this month. I checked the websites for the candidates and confirmed my suspicion that they both supported the concept of “fixing the infrastructure” in principle but lacked any specifics in level of investment or source of revenue to pay for it.

I am aware that federal legislation passed in 2015 establishes a level of about $60 billion a year for surface transportation, including public transit. I believe that about $45 billion a year of this total is allocated for highways and bridges.

I also am aware that the Highway Trust Fund, the designated source of income for highways and bridges, is no longer able to provide that level of funding. It depends upon the federal gas tax established in 1993 at 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline, with no provision for indexing to account for inflation, which has amounted to 45 percent in the intervening 25 years.

Consequently, I emailed both campaign headquarters, reported that the current federal level of funding the highways and bridges part of infrastructure was about $45 billion a year, and asked each of them what level of funding they supported and how they would plan to generate revenue to support it.

The results were predictable. Two weeks later I have had no response from the campaign headquarters of one of the candidates. A staffer from the other candidate’s headquarters did contact me by telephone and suggest that I refer to their website for their position on infrastructure funding and became annoyed when I suggested he reread my email, which clearly stated I had already done just that.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. Reach him at 412-343-1652 or joylerpa@icloud.com. Read more from him at mywutb.blogspot.com.