As we noted earlier, the American Society of Civil Engineers has graded Pennsylvania's infrastructure, and the results aren't pretty.

How bad are they?

Let's just say that if Pennsylvania were in college, it would be on academic probation: The state got an overall D-plus. According to the Post-Gazette:

Other grades were parks and recreation, B-minus; solid waste, C; dams and levees, C-minus; rail, B; storm water, D-minus; drinking water, D-plus; navigable waterways, D-plus; schools, B-minus; and wastewater, D-plus.

Ouch. Of course, in addition to being broken, Pennsylvania is also broke. Can we really afford to invest in these things?

Well, Paul Taylor over at Governing magazine points out that it usually costs less in the long run to maintain the infrastructure that we already have than to wait for infrastructure to decay so much that it needs to be replaced.

Taylor tells the story of Fort Wayne, Ind., Mayor Graham Richard's attempt to reduce the number of potholes in his town. A city maintenance worker suggested to Richard that the city could do a better job sealing cracks in the pavement between May and October to reduce the breakup of asphalt in the winter that causes potholes:

The plan worked. Fewer potholes were filled faster. Crews blew past the original performance goal by reducing response times from four days to four hours. It improved service and saved the city money, and bonus checks followed.

At issue is preventive maintenance. Filling cracks, fixing leaks, painting exposed wood, replacing broken window panes and changing oil are mundane and relatively inexpensive measures that extend the serviceable life of useful things. In budgetary compromises, such maintenance is often deferred to stretch available funds to meet maintenance level costs, which reflect mandatory caseload, inflation and other legally unavoidable expenses. Preventive maintenance may be legally avoidable – but the bill will inevitably come due.

Is "Be More Like Fort Wayne" a winning political slogan?

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