Wawa in Ephrata

THE ISSUE

On Jan. 1, an 8-cent state gas tax increase, from 50.3 to 58.3 cents a gallon, was enacted. Pennsylvania already had the highest gas tax in the nation. The increase is the third in four years since the passage of Act 89, a $2.3 billion transportation bill signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett.

The headline read, “Gas prices at level not seen in 8 years.” Beneath it, the subhead: “Several stations in Lancaster County are selling regular unleaded for $1.89/gallon.”

That was in the Jan. 20, 2016, edition of LNP. Everything was hunky-dory in the driving world.

But 11 months later, on Dec. 14, it was quite a different story.

GAS PAINS,” the front-page read in bold, capitalized letters. “State to raise tax 8 cents per gallon Jan.1; money to go toward bridge and road work.”

And fury ensued.

“Take more money out of my pocket. Thank you so much!” wrote LancasterOnline reader Terry Hammer, of Ephrata. “I think I’m soon going to move out of PA.”

“Welcome to ‘Taxsylvania,’ ” Strasburg resident Donald Lentz lamented.

In a letter to the editor in today’s LNP, Steve Kurtz, of East Petersburg, chimes in: “It won’t be long before it might be cheaper to drive to Maryland and back just to ‘fill ’er up!’ ”

We get it. Gas prices are the bane of many Pennsylvania drivers’ existence, much as school taxes are for many retired folks and pension reform is for state legislators.

According to GasBuddy.com, by late January 2016, the average Pennsylvania gas price fell below $2 a gallon. Two months later, the price dropped to $1.86. By the end of 2016, it had risen to $2.53 a gallon. And, thanks to the state’s increasing gas tax, drivers in the commonwealth woke up on New Year’s Day to even higher gas prices.

But here and around the world, nothing comes free. (And speaking of around the world, gas costs upwards of $5.50 a gallon in countries such as England and Germany; American gas prices are among the lowest.)

There are nearly 950 road and bridge construction projects underway statewide. The cost? $5.13 billion. Countywide, there are 52 projects billed at about $81 million. They include bridge repairs and replacements, traffic signal improvements, and road resurfacing and rebuilding.

It is wasn’t for the gas tax, these imperative, multimillion dollar projects likely wouldn’t see the light of day. And we all know Lancaster County roads, littered with traffic and dotted with potholes, need plenty of work.

In Lancaster city, for example, 27 percent of major roads are in “poor” shape, 32 percent are “mediocre” and 22 percent “fair,” according to a 2015 report titled, “Bumpy Roads Ahead: America’s Roughest Rides and Strategies to Make our Roads Smoother.” Only 19 percent rated “good.”

Among 63 midsize urban areas with populations between 250,000 and 500,000, Lancaster ranked 27th in road quality; Flint, Michigan, ranked first. In Pennsylvania, alone, only Scranton ranked “higher” than Lancaster, with Reading and Harrisburg trailing.

The ramifications of these statistics are arguably much worse than that of the increased gas tax.

Lancaster drivers cough up an average of $547 annually in operating costs through vehicle deterioration, depreciation and maintenance, the report stated.

Now, let’s compare the financial impact of the gas tax increase.

For a driver who travels 12,000 miles a year in a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon, the gas tax increase would amount to $38 in 2017. Drive more miles in a less fuel-efficient car, that number could go up to about $60. Drive less in a more fuel-efficient car, it could cost less than a dinner-for-two.

This money has to come from somewhere, and we ought to be thankful that our roads and bridges will improve because of it.

When picking our poisons, we’ll take the gas tax increase.