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Daily Blog Archive

PART 1: The problem with Pennsylvania

State officials complain about lack of highway, transit funding – but where is the money spent now?

 

In the early 1800s, America was on the cusp of a major industrial and commercial expansion.

The nation needed a way to move its goods, to transport raw materials and finished products, a mode of reliable transportation that would connect people and products.

But the railroads and highways that play such a vital role in commerce today were then the stuff of science fiction. So the United States entered the great era of canal building.

With barges towed by mules that walked along the banks, the canals could be built where needed, eliminating the need to locate along existing, natural waterways. And they often connected those waterways, opening both ends to new products, and new markets.

Today, only one of those canals remains in its original form – The Delaware Canal in Pennsylvania. For a century, it provided transportation services to numerous communities along its 60-mile-long path. It moved coal, creating an industry in rural Pennsylvania, and warming homes in Philadelphia and New York City.

The canal was last used as an industrial and passenger waterway in late 1931, a century after it was opened.

Preserved now as a state park, the canal is a bona fide piece of American history. It’s been named a Registered National Historic Landmark, and its towpath is a National Recreation Trail. And it’s immensely popular with the people who live near and around it.

Few people would argue that we should preserve what remains of the Delaware Canal.

But how many people would say we should use federal highway money to get the job done?

In fact, it was part of your fuel tax – your federal highway money – that paid for more than $5 million of restoration and rehabilitation work on the canal … something listed as a “transportation enhancement” by the state of Pennsylvania.

It’s just one example of how money paid for roads and intended for roads is spent on anything but roads in the Keystone state.

The case of the costly canal

To discover just how far away from highways the money is being spent, let’s take a closer look at the Delaware Canal.

According to state literature on the park, the canal’s “Tow Path” – where mules once walked to haul freight barges down the waterway – is now a hiking trail. And the only freight hauled in the boats that now ply its waterways is tourists.

Rick Dalton, manager of the Delaware Canal State Park, described the waterway’s current uses during a recent conversation.

“Nothing in the way of commerce as it was when it ran commercially,” he said. “The park is used more, of course, for recreation now as a state park – canoeing, fishing, mostly trail use, biking, hiking, bird watching.”

Yet, despite the lack of any current transportation use, in 1993 alone, more than $4 million in federal road money was spent on the canal. An additional $1.1 million in federal road money was approved in 2002.

Dalton says the 1993 money took care of some basic maintenance on the waterway.

“There was a major re-lining and dredging project that happened at that time,” he said.

“Over the years, the canal silts in from different reasons, a lot of streams and runoff come into the canal, and puts material in; as really a maintenance (item), it needs to be removed occasionally.”

The $1.1 million for 2002 went for a similar bit of basic maintenance:

“That was the rehabilitation of lock 11, which is in Downtown New Hope,” Dalton said. “The money was used to rehabilitate the lock into a working canal lock.”

The work on the canal is listed on

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