Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Mayor Rick Gray is calling attention to the need for more transportation funding dollars, giving the city’s roads a grade of D+.
The city has a 20-year capital master plan with a more-than-$100-million price tag. The city is three years into that plan and behind schedule already.
“Most of the elements of our plan are on hold as funding continues to decline,” Gray said in a recent interview with TI Daily News.
Gray said he would support some type of tax increase, such as a user tax, a burden that would be shared by all who drive on Lancaster’s roads.
“We have one street that’s traveled by 15,000 vehicles a day, many of them trucks. We need help in those situations,” Gray said.
Many cities across the country are grappling with a lack of transportation dollars and are focused on uncertainty surrounding federal highway funding. The authorization for the federal surface transportation program is set to expire on May 31. Over the last six years, Congress has funded the nation’s transportation system with 32 short-term measures, but possible long-term solutions are being debated by lawmakers.
Road repairs are not the only challenge for Lancaster.
Gray recently attended a Chicago water conference with other mayors and said their woes don’t compare with Lancaster’s water-infrastructure problems.
“A mayor from the Los Angeles area had said his city had a 75-year-old water main. I said we just replaced a water main that was built in 1830.” Lancaster is one of the oldest inland cities in the United States. Some water pipes can still be found made of wood.
The city has a combined storm-water and wastewater system. Gray said there were discussions in 1906 about separating them into two separate systems, but the city could not afford the $2 million price tag.
“To do that today would cost us $2 billion,” Gray said.
The city does everything possible to be proactive, but faces a lack of funding and a populace generally against fixing what can’t be seen, Gray said. “Mayors don’t get re-elected because the sewers work,” Gray said.
To add insult to injury, Mother Nature plays a critical role. Gray said that due to harsh weather conditions in the commonwealth, the freeze-defrost-freeze cycle takes an incredible toll on the city’s infrastructure.
“During a harsh winter, we’ll have 100 water-main breaks,” Gray said.
Raising taxes to fund infrastructure improvements is an option, but the city needs to remain competitive, and tax increases could scare existing businesses away, Gray said.
In one example, a local cereal manufacturer uses a great deal of water, but the city had to negotiate the water rates to keep that company in town, Gray said.