Report suggests regional taxes could pay for road work in Pennsylvania

| 10/16/2006

A study released this month offered a new option for relieving the transportation funding crisis in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Economy League study said regional taxes could be used to fund road, bridge and mass transit improvements throughout the state. The report is based on six months of telephone polling and interviews with state and federal transportation experts, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Transportation experts said that while state lawmakers should provide additional statewide funding to make needed improvements to roads and bridges, regional funds also could be tapped.

If signed into law, such a multi-county transportation region could be authorized to increase the fuel tax, or another fee or toll, in specified counties. Revenue would stay there to help pay for work on roads, bridges and mass transit, the Post-Gazette reported.

According to the study, state officials should explore the idea of "permitting regions to explore alternative financing mechanisms and regional taxing authority to address unique regional (transportation) needs."

If approved, Pennsylvania would join such states as California, Georgia, Illinois and Missouri that have transportation districts to help cover costs for roads, bridges or transit systems.

Additional transportation funding recommendations were to use the sale of bonds to pay for road and bridge work and explore public-private partnerships. One other recommendation was to require revenue generated from such enhancers as higher fuel taxes and higher vehicle registration fees be dedicated solely for transportation.

The league's report follows the release of another study from the Pennsylvania Transportation and Funding Reform Commission that was similar in scope.

Among the possibilities for how to pay for transportation projects mentioned in the commission's report include charging drivers to use roads that are now toll free, such as Interstate 80, and creating public-private partnerships for some major highways, including giving a private group a long-term lease to operate the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Post-Gazette reported.

What the state will do to pay for needed transportation work should get a little clearer next month. The commission is expected to deliver a final report with recommendations on how to keep roads, bridges and transit from further deterioration by Nov. 15 - a week after the general election.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor