This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
Four years later the law of 1905 was thrown on the scrap heap as unworkable and ineffective. The legislature now passed an act by which the State took over a large number of the most frequently traveled main roads. In the future these roads are to be improved and maintained by the highway department entirely at state expense. *24 Wherever the state roads pass through boroughs or cities and are constructed of macadam, the local government must pay one-half the cost of maintenance. If, however, they are paved the municipality must maintain them wholly at its own expense.
This act also provides for the co-operation of the state and the localities in constructing and maintaining permanent highways upon routes other than those designated as "state highways." Such roads are known as "state aid highways." The new arrangements enable any locality that desires to improve secondary roads to apply for aid to the extent of 50 per cent of the cost of the original construction and in the same proportion for lands purchased and damages incurred. *25 The townships and the counties must pay 50 per cent, but they may make such arrangements as they see fit concerning the proportion that each must bear.
20 Pennsylvania Road Laws, p. 179.
21 The law apparently anticipated that the remainder would be divided equally between them, but they were authorized to agree to other proportions.
22 Act 1 May, 1905, P.L. pp. 318-330.
23 Act 8 June, 1907, P.L. pp. 505-520. 24 Act 31 May, 1911, P.L. pp. 468-533. 25 Act 31 May, 1911, P.L. pp. 522-527.
The subvention is apportioned among the townships by the Highway Department in accordance with the mileage of existing roads, as was the case under the act of 1905; but the total amount available for distribution depends, of course, upon the action of the legislature. In 1911, $3,000,000 was appropriated for state highways and $1,000,000 for state aid highways. Both amounts include appropriations for construction and for maintenance. *26 A large proportion of the funds for road improvement is derived from the fees for registering motor vehicles, *27 which amounted in 1916 to $2,448,924. *28
In addition to the direct subvention already described the state agrees to pay any township an amount equal to 50 per cent of the road taxes collected in cash by the township, but not in excess of $20.00 for each mile of road lying within its boundaries. *29 The total of state and local contributions is used for general road construction and maintenance. Control of expenditure is in the hands of local authorities. In 1914 payments from the state treasury for this purpose amounted to $200,000.30 This peculiar subvention grew out of the attempt to induce the townships to collect their road taxes in cash instead of labor. Reasons for the inefficiency of the latter method are sufficiently obvious, but the farming communities clung to it with great tenacity although the bribe of a state subvention if they abandoned it was offered as early as 1904. In 1913, when the legislature established the Bureau of Township Highways within the Highway Department, it abolished the payment of road taxes in labor but retained the 50 per cent contribution by the state. *31 This bureau is to have supervision over all highways constructed and maintained with state aid, except state highways and state aid highways. It is given the power to prescribe the duties of township road officers.
26 Act 31 May, 1911, P. L. p. 529.
27 See Acts 21 March, 1913, P.L. p. 50, and 23 May, 1913, P.L. p. 300.
28 Aud. Gen. Report (1916), Appendix C.
29 Act 13 May, 1909, P.L. pp. 752-759. 30 Aud. Gen. Report (1914), p. 523.
31 Act 22 July, 1913, P.L. pp. 915-927.
Highways in Pennsylvania are now of three classes. First are the state highways, which are the main arteries of traffic, and which are constructed, maintained and policed by state officials and at state expense except where they pass through boroughs or cities. Second, there are the state aid highways, which are constructed and maintained under state supervision that amounts practically to state control. The cost is borne equally by the state and the localities. These roads are presumably important local thoroughfares, but not in the line of heavy traffic between large centers of population. Third, there are the local roads, chiefly unmetalled, which are controlled by the township and county authorities under state supervision. The cost of maintaining these is borne by the locality with the assistance of the state through the contribution of 50 per cent of the local tax, but not over $20.00 per mile.
It is at once evident that the movement toward centralization in highway construction and maintenance has been very rapid since 1905. Local control had existed from the foundation of the colony until 1903, when a mild form of state supervision with a subvention was inaugurated. But this scheme proved ineffectual because the localities did not always wish to build good roads, even though the state contributed 75 per cent of the cost, because local control did not lead to the construction of a system of roads; and, because it was found that township officers, even under central supervision, could not be relied upon to keep the roads in good repair. Finally, with the increase of automobile traffic the opinion became current that the main highways were of state-wide importance and of general, rather than local benefit. Hence their management was thought to be a matter for state and not local control. The example of other states, such as New York, was also a cause for centralization.
In the case of the less important roads the inefficiency of township administration and the desire of the farming communities to shift the the burden of expense seem to have been the principal controlling factors leading to centralization. Moreover, in both cases, the tendency of a large state department to extend its activities is also apparent.
It may be asked why the movement toward centralization has been so much more rapid in the case of highways than in the case of education and charitable relief. The answer is not entirely forthcoming, but certain reasons are clear. In the first place the inefficiency of local management is much more patent in the case of roads than in the other two services. The quality of highways is a matter concerning which every person can judge, while in the other cases the quality of service can be evaluated only by the trained and experienced few. Moreover, a larger number of persons is daily brought into direct contact with the service in the case of roads than in the matters of education and charitable relief; and the people who use the principal highways most frequently belong to the wealthier and more influential classes that are accustomed to leadership and control. That these classes should be able to obtain speedy action from the legislature is not, therefore, a surprising matter.
In the second place, no strong vested interests, whose influence might have been exerted against change, as is the case with hospitals and orphanages, have been encountered in the reform of highway administration. Thirdly, the economy and increased efficiency resulting from centralization are probably greater, and at least more patent, in highway management than in education or in the care and treatment of the insane and the indigent sick. Fourthly, it has been asserted, political influences favored centralization of highway control while they have generally opposed it for hospitals and orphanages. Finally, strong prejudices against centralization, which spring from religious motives, were not encountered in the case of highway management as they have been in the case of homes and orphanages.