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Killer roads may receive more funds

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Roads like congested "Killer Conchester" near Boothwyn that are driving Congress to push for more highway money for the states, even if it means ignoring the Balanced Budget Act's spending limits.

Some folks in this Philadelphia suburb are so afraid of navigating the two-lane highway to Guyer's Auto Service that owner Theresa Guyer has to arrange pickup and delivery of their cars. Guyer insists the door-to-door service is the only way to persuade some customers to come to the stretch of highway locals call a killer.The six-mile stretch of Conchester Highway connecting two major thoroughfares southwest of Philadelphia has claimed dozens of lives over the years, including two in the past 15 months. State transportation officials lack the money to make the needed upgrades.

Many other cities and states have their own versions of "Killer Conchester." Perennial problems on these overused, under-engineered roads are helping to drive the efforts in Washington to steer highway money to states, even if it means tinkering with balanced-budget spending limits negotiated between Congress and the White House last year.

The Senate recently voted a 38 percent increase in transportation spending. The House Transportation Committee takes up the massive highway bill Tuesday.

"The reputation of being a killer highway hurts the businesses on the Conchester," said Guyer, a commissioner of Upper Chichester, the township where the road segment lies.

State transportation officials have been struggling for years to find the $44 million needed to add two lanes to the current two, construct a center barrier and build turn areas.

Township Police Chief William T. Robinson, who has investigated countless accidents, said crashes often result from drivers mistakenly crossing the yellow dividing line into oncoming traffic.

"Since the road is really not that forgiving because of the width and the lack of a barrier, any misjudgment could lead to disaster," Robinson said.

Both the House and the Senate transportation bills would spend more on roads, bridges and mass transit than the caps set in last summer's balanced-budget agreement, meaning other programs might have to be cut.

The Senate is shooting for $214 billion over six years, House leaders $217 billion.

Experts say the biggest need is not to build new roads but to repair and upgrade the old ones - to reduce accidents, eliminate congestion and promote economic development.

Much of the highway money would go toward expanding roads to four lanes, adding left-turn and U-turn mechanisms, straightening curves, removing roadside obstacles such as trees and making expensive bridge repairs.

Those needs stem largely from Americans' growing affinity with their cars and from an increased reliance on highways for moving raw materials and finished products. The outdated roads were designed decades ago, based on lighter traffic patterns.

Jane Mathis, executive director for the Florida Transportation Com-mission, an advisory body, said Florida officials have devoted their scarce dollars to basic maintenance, putting off projects to expand capacity.

The Department of Transportation estimates that highway travel has increased nationwide by 36.5 percent since 1985. In the same period, road mileage has increased by 1.3 percent.

Despite improvements in pavement conditions and highway safe-ty, the department also estimates that annual highway spending falls at least $20 billion short of what's needed.

"Our country is moving and our country is growing, but our infrastructure is crumbling," said Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation Committee who has led the fight for more road money.

Shuster said highway conditions and obstacles contribute to nearly 30 percent of the 42,000 deaths annually on the nation's highways.

A road officially called the Bud Shuster Highway cuts through the heart of his south-central Pennsylvania district. By widening the highway from two to four lanes, the number of fatalities was cut from six a year to a total of three over eight years.