Here in the Commonwealth, and all across the nation, we are coming to grips with the simple fact that our infrastructure is old, overstressed and falling apart.
In Pennsylvania, our highway bridges are 50 years old on average.
With 25,000 state-owned bridges, Pennsylvania has the third largest number of bridges in the nation, but we lead the nation with nearly 6,000 bridges classified as "structurally deficient" by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
That doesn't even begin to count the multitude of deficient locally owned bridges that county and municipal governments must maintain.
Even as we work on a comprehensive and fiscally responsible solution to Pennsylvania's $3.5 billion annual transportation funding gap, there is growing pressure coming from Washington to sharply increase maximum allowable weight limits for tractor-trailers.
As chairman of the House Transportation Committee, I am concerned about the safety of the motoring public.
That issue is what makes me wary of bigger trucks, especially in Pennsylvania, with so many functionally obsolete roads and bridges.
I have long supported the trucking industry with measures to get more and better drivers and safer trucks. Our Commercial Driver's License (CDL) law is one of the best in the nation. Truckers and trucking companies already pay a large amount of road taxes and fees.
We have a special diesel tax to support our bridge program, but this will soon dry up because of the Rendell administration's decision to borrow against the future proceeds. Many of our bridges were not designed to carry today's 80,000-pound trucks, let alone new bigger rigs some say should be allowed.
Of course, the groups lobbying for heavier trucks don't mention this. They point to the efficiencies of super-sized tractor-trailers and the reduced pollution. There are claims that bigger trucks are safer than existing big rigs because allowing bigger trucks means we would have fewer of them.
History shows that this is false. The number of trucks, and the miles they travel, has steadily increased since the federal government raised the national truck-weight limit to 80,000 pounds in 1982.
With the amount of freight moving across the U.S. expected to increase by almost 100 percent during the next 25 years, there will be a lot more trucks on our roads. Do we really need those trucks to be heavier and longer?
I am confident that most Pennsylvanians would agree when I say the answer is a resounding no.
As an Altoonan, I must say that our freight railroads have excess capacity and can easily handle more traffic. There is room for a good mix of trucks and rail in the Commonwealth as the laws exist today.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that trucks operating at 80,000 pounds today pay about 80 percent of the costs associated with the wear and tear they wreak on public roads - with average taxpayers covering the remainder of the damage they cause.
Raising weights to 97,000 pounds without a corresponding hike in the fees would more than double the burden on taxpayers, and the subsidy for trucking companies, because the heavier rigs would pay an even smaller proportion of their costs.
At all levels of government, elected leaders will soon be making tough choices between funding for schools, law enforcement, infrastructure and other very real priorities.
Without a plan to address the damage to our roads, Congress would set us back even further if they allow bigger trucks across the United States.
Depending on the amount of extra weight permitted, it would likely speed up the deterioration of our roads and bridges and pass huge repair burdens to taxpayers.
Geist, R-Altoona, has been in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 1978.