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$2 trillion in road repairs needed

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Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009

Bringing failing roads, rails and highways up to passing grades will require a significant infusion of political courage, cooperation and tax money, according to a former PennDOT leader and the head of a Moon-based engineering and consulting firm.

Bradley Mallory, president and CEO of Michael Baker Corp., on Wednesday presented the Pittsburgh Technology Council with his blueprint for starting to tackle the estimated $2.2 trillion worth of work needed to improve the nation's infrastructure within five years -- which is vital to the region if it wants to attract and retain jobs and workers, he said.

"Every one of us is very much grounded in asphalt, concrete and steel every day of our lives," said Mallory, who served as secretary of transportation under Gov. Tom Ridge from 1995 to 2003. "If we're going to fix our problems, we're going to have to take care of some very messy, dirty-fingernail kind of infrastructure."

Part of the problem lies in the gulf between the money it will take to fix deteriorating infrastructure and what's available, Mallory said, adding that he believes few planners and politicians are willing to do the work, engage in the discussion and make the difficult decisions to close that gap.

Public-private partnerships and tolls on some highways could be parts of the solution, Mallory said, and he generally supports projects like the effort to toll Interstate 80. He said technology has opened the door for new revenue sources like taxes based on miles traveled rather than gallons of gas purchased.

Mallory emphasized that regional planning groups like the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission are good places to encourage the cooperation needed to choose sustainable projects and strike a balance between maintenance and expansion. Adding local funding to federal sources usually ensures that planners are picking the right projects and making sure they are done right.

The Technology Council took an interest in Mallory's presentation because transportation infrastructure is important to attracting and retaining high-tech, high-paying jobs, said council President Audrey Russo.

"So what if we have all these jobs -- if people don't want to live here, then what?" Russo said. "Tech companies have to travel, and if it's not easy for an investor to get here, they're not going to invest here."

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