PennDOT secretary highlights dire bridge situation

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, August 05, 2013

Transportation officials and state lawmakers in Pennsylvania got together last week to keep the conversation going on a bill that would raise at least $2 billion to help pay for roads, bridges and transit. Weight restricting bridges was highlighted as a consequence of inaction.

The Senate Transportation Committee met on July 31 to discuss their commitment to getting a long-term funding package through the statehouse this fall.

Senate lawmakers voted 45-5 in June to advance to the House a bill that could result in a 28-cent increase in the state’s fuel tax rate. A revised version of the bill – SB1 – was awaiting consideration on the House floor when lawmakers recessed for the summer.

The Legislature is scheduled to get back to work next month. In the meantime, advocates for getting a transportation funding plan through the statehouse met to discuss the consequences if lawmakers fail to resolve the issue this fall.

Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch told lawmakers he couldn’t believe the issue remains unresolved two years after a transportation funding advisory commission to Gov. Tom Corbett estimated a $3.5 billion annual shortfall.

Schoch said that due to their failure to act “the consequences have already started.” He said the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is examining 1,200 state bridges for possible weight restricting. To make matters worse, another 1,000 local bridges could also be affected.

“You start weight restricting bridges, you start sending trucks on longer detour routes,” Schoch testified. He later pointed out that such detours could be anywhere from three to 26 miles.

Schoch said that he and Gov. Corbett would reveal their recommendations for weight-restricted bridges in the coming days.

“At this point, unfortunately, my hands are tied. We don’t have the revenue to take care of these bridges.”

The funding plan being considered by lawmakers would lift a cap on the oil company franchise tax. The move could increase the per-gallon tax on fuel more than 28 cents over five years because the companies are expected to pass along much of the increase to consumers. Currently, the tax applies only to the first $1.25 per gallon of the wholesale price.

Eliminating the cap on fuel prices now exceeding $3 per gallon would go a long way to help the state raise about $1.8 billion annually for roads and bridges once the cap is completely lifted. About $510 million would be applied to other modes of transportation.

Other changes include phasing out Act 44 by 2021. The six-year-old law requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to route $450 million annually to the state for roads and bridges.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania, click here.

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