The game of kick-the-can-down-the-crumbling-road in Pennsylvania has suddenly turned very interesting.

The state of the state’s vast matrix of roads, bridges, and transit systems has been precarious for what seems like forever. Too expensive to adequately maintain, too politically dangerous to find the big money needed to keep it strong. Then comes a new president. An audacious Democrat who appears determined to stop playing hands-off with American decline. Could it be that Joe Biden will send Pennsylvania the kind of rescue that Democratic and Republican governors, and Pennsylvania’s ironclad Republican legislature, have failed to produce on their own?

The president’s proposed $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal could send billions to the state of Biden’s birth. A state where Republicans who control the legislature have been loath to raise taxes to fix roads. Where even Democrats have feared the blowback of such a big bill on taxpayers.

Just how big a deal is this plan? Let’s start with a mini-history lesson.

After concrete was first poured a century ago to form the massive network of highways and roads now crisscrossing the commonwealth, the Keystone State enjoyed car-culture boasting rights. Our turnpike opened in 1940 as the nation’s first “superhighway.” Pennsylvania was awash in asphalt during the headier days of America’s expanding post-World War II economy.

With the passage of time, however, U.S. economic growth shrank below those unnatural postwar levels. Wear and tear set in on state highways and rural roads, turning them into distressed assets owned by increasingly cash-strapped taxpayer-landlords.

Politicians launched a hodgepodge maintenance approach: A gas tax increase here, a motor vehicle licensing fee there, a law authorizing the raiding of the independent Pennsylvania Turnpike treasury to score cash for Department of Transportation-overseen roads and, more recently, regional mass transit.

Enter: President Joe Biden, 2021.

During an appearance a few days ago in Pittsburgh, the newly elected commander-in-chief unveiled a massive federal infrastructure spending plan. It has a lot of components. But one is a pile of cash to shore up underfunded mass transit and roadways in America.

It’s the kind of money no one has seen in decades in Pennsylvania from the feds.

“We’re probably about $9 billion short of bringing our roads and bridges into adequate repair and doing the projects that PennDot deems necessary,” former state House Transportation Committee Chairman John Taylor, a Republican who retired from his Northeast Philadelphia legislative post in 2018, told me Thursday, a day after Biden’s announcement.

“It’s exciting in one sense,” added Taylor, now a transportation lobbyist in Harrisburg. “But it’s also allowing us to punt the inevitable decisions in Pennsylvania about funding. It’s only going to solve our problem for a certain amount of time.”

Pennsylvania’s challenge since at least the 1960s has been finding an annually replenished piggy bank to pay for maintaining all of its roads, highways, bridges, and transit systems.

Whether dirt farm roads paved during the 1920s, or interstates that today form an essential e-commerce link between Chicago and New York, keeping them all in shape has been a heavy lift for state leaders. Unlike the feds, they cannot print money. They must balance their budgets and hate to tax residents for gigantic-ticket items like fixing roads and bridges.

Consider also that Pennsylvania has the third-highest number of interstates and highways of all 50 states. That’s a lot of scratch to keep the system strong.

“The fifth largest in the country when it comes to miles that we have to take care of,” former PennDot Commissioner Leslie S. Richards, currently SEPTA’s general manager, said when we talked Wednesday. “There’s more miles to take care of in Pennsylvania than there is in New Jersey, New York, and New England combined.”

Finding that money, including for interstate highways that are pounded by cross-continental tractor-trailer commerce, has been excruciating.

“We have over 40,000 miles of state roads to handle,” said longtime Harrisburg transportation -policy expert Eric Bugaile, who until recently had worked for the House Transportation Committee for 28 years. That’s been even harder, he said, considering that PennDot has had to care for federal interstates while federal aid has decreased sharply since after the Clinton administration in the late 1990s.

In the 1960s, the state constitution was changed to require that all gas tax revenue and vehicle registration fees be spent only on roads and bridges — not mass transit.

But that was eventually raided by a clever interpretation of the constitution. The majority of those fees now pay a large chunk of the state police budget — well beyond by hundreds of millions of dollars the police work actually done on roadways.

State officials hiked the gas tax and other fees decades later. Things were so tight in 2007, though, that the state passed a law mandating that the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is a toll road run by an independent authority and not PennDot, set aside a mandatory $450 million a year for PennDot projects.

Soon enough, though, even that was changed to redirect the money to mass transit.

That mass transit set-aside vanishes almost entirely next year. When it does, the Turnpike will be left with extraordinary debt and the need to keep raising tolls, as it has since the law’s passage 15 years ago, to pay it down.

Now do you see why the Biden bill is so interesting, even though it represents only a short-term infusion?

“You’ve only got $115 billion for highways and bridges, out of $2 trillion,” Bugaile noted of Biden’s plan. “I mean, that’s fine and good, that’s more than the federal government’s done in years. But it’s certainly not what is needed out there.”

The perfect is the enemy of the good, of course. So let’s not scoff at Biden’s plan for what it lacks. Let’s instead praise its audacity. It would help keep a great state’s assets from further crumbling — along with the nation’s reputation as a global superpower.