Transportation bill includes dirt roads

The transportation bill that won passage in the Pennsylvania General Assembly will provide for a big increase in funding for the state’s more that 20,000 miles of unpaved public roads.

The bill included an increase for Pennsylvania’s Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program to $35 million, seven times the previous $5 million in funding.

Of the new funding total, 20 percent, or $7 million, will go to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to maintain its road system. The remaining 80 percent, or $28 million, will go to the state Conservation Commission which will then pass it on to local conservation districts. The conservation districts will then direct it to road-owning municipalities.

The bill also expands the program to include low-traffic-volume paved roads in addition to the dirt and gravel roads it has traditionally targeted. According to PennDOT District 1 Press Officer Jim Carroll, up to $8 million from the funds will be made available annually for the low-traffic roads.

The news isn’t just good for those who need to travel on low-volume roads, in fact, road condition for travel isn’t what the program is designed to address.

“Pennsylvania’s Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program provides funding to eliminate stream pollution caused by runoff and sediment from the state’s 20,000-plus-mile network of unpaved roads,” said Warren County Conservation District Technician Greg Kolenda, who handles the program in the county. “The program was enacted in April 1997 as Section 9106 of the PA Vehicle Code, with $5 million in annual funding for, ‘environmentally sensitive road maintenance’. The goal of the program is to create a more environmentally and economically sustainable low-volume road network through education, outreach and project funding.”

Since the program’s creation, according to Kolenda, 115 projects involving 15 townships have been completed in Warren County. In total, nearly $3.5 million in funds have been used in the county.

Statewide, more than 2,500 projects have been completed through the program.

Those totals are likely to rise with the funding increase.

“An increase in the funding allocation for Warren County will result in an increase in the number of projects and grants for local townships,” Kolenda noted, “which will result in better roads and improved water quality. The details are still being worked out as far as the amount of an increase in funding Warren County will receive, but (it) ought to be more than previous years.”

Despite having funded more than 2,500 projects, the funding increase comes in the face of a massive backlog of potential program projects. According to the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies at Penn State, more than 14,000 pollution sites that could potentially benefit from program funding have been identified in the state.

“The funding increase for the Dirt and Gravel Roads Program happened because of the efficiency of this grassroots partnership between the conservation district and local townships,” Kolenda said. “The Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts also worked very hard to secure the funding increase.”

Sixty-five of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are active in the program; only Philadelphia and Delaware counties don’t participate.