Keep Your District Moving: Scranton, PA

This post is the third in a series examining federal transportation dollars at work in freshman congressional districts. Today I’m looking at Pennsylvania’s 11th district, represented by Republican Lou Barletta, serving his first term. Barletta is one of 19 freshman congressman on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Barletta represents the heart of coal country around Scranton (and the fictional branch office of Dunder Mifflin), as well as booming Monroe County, home to the Poconos resorts and plenty of former New Yorkers and New Jerseyites, many of whom commute to the New York metropolitan area for work.

Pennsylvania has the highest percent of structurally deficient bridges of any state in the nation – more than one out of four bridges in the state are in need of repairs. Dozens of these bridges are in the Scranton area, including a pair of bridges on I-81 that carry nearly 75,000 cars a day.

Keeping drivers in this district safe requires not only securing federal funding for bridge repair, but spending it appropriately. States have the discretion to transfer huge chunks of their federal funding to other projects, no questions asked – and in many cases “boring” maintenance work is deferred in favor of more attention-getting projects. According to Transportation for America, if spending levels and priorities aren’t changed, every Pennsylvania driver would need to fork over $903 to fix the state’s ailing bridges.

Millions of federal dollars have also gone into building modern Intermodal transit centers in the cities of Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton. These new buildings serve as downtown hubs for bus lines and taxis, and supply parking for commuters and downtown visitors. Scranton is also working on plans for a similar center.

City officials hope Scranton’s Intermodal will one day be a train station as well. For nearly a decade, Pennsylvania and New Jersey politicians have been lobbying to restore passenger rail service between Scranton and Hoboken, New Jersey, giving thousands of northeast Pennsylvania commuters better access to the New York metropolitan area. Most of these commuters drive alone on crowded I-80 to get to work; some take the bus.

Without federal dollars, it’s unlikely the project, known as the Lackawanna Cutoff, will get off the ground. Yet Monroe County continues to boom (the population is expected to double by 2030), and the number of drivers trying to get into the New York area is rising as well. New Jersey has already started work on a portion of the project, thanks to federal funds. Pennsylvania failed to get federal funding for the project in the 2009 stimulus package.