The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced that students in grades 9-12 are invited to participate in the fourth annual PennDOT Innovations Challenge, which encourages students to use their problem-solving, creative and strategic-thinking abilities to solve real-world transportation challenges in a competition among their peers.
“One of the goals of the Innovations Challenge is to open students’ minds to the possibility of a career in transportation, maybe even with PennDOT,” said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian. “Students working on this project will engage in the very real challenge facing the industry – finding a sustainable solution to transportation funding challenges.”
This year’s Innovations Challenge asks students to develop an innovative and implementable solution that helps address Pennsylvania’s transportation revenue shortfall by identifying potential new funding streams, aside from additional gas taxes, tolls or mileage-based user fees, to help ensure adequate transportation funding for the future.
The Innovations Challenge is open to all students in grades 9-12, regardless of their school’s learning model. PennDOT is directly responsible for nearly 40,000 miles of highway and roughly 25,000 bridges, roughly equal to the state-maintained road systems of New York, New Jersey, and all the New England states combined. Much of the funding to maintain that system comes from liquid fuel taxes, which are becoming increasingly unsustainable, especially considering additional impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With vehicles becoming more fuel efficient and electric vehicles becoming more affordable, gasoline-based revenues can no longer generate the funds needed. Other options, including tolling and mileage-based user fees, are being explored. To meet the needs of its aging infrastructure, Pennsylvania needs to establish a funding stream that will inject an additional $5 billion per year into its transportation system.
“We appreciate the unique challenges faced by schools during the pandemic,” Gramian added. “Our educators are to be commended for encouraging the creative thinking needed for the Innovations Challenge.”
Regional Innovations Challenge winners will be selected and invited to compete for the state championship.
The Transportation Policy and Education Foundation, an educational arm of the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, the American Council of Engineering Companies of PA and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Traffic Safety Services Association are providing a combined total award of $5,500 to be divided among the first, second and third place statewide winning teams.
For complete Innovations Challenge details, visit penndot.gov/innovation. The submission deadline is Dec. 18.