PHIA News Digest – Vol. 30

June 29, 2015

PDSITELOGO2Mayors want Congress to ‘lead’ on highway bill
The leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors said Monday that convincing Congress to pass a long-term extension of federal transportation funding is a top priority for the nation’s municipal leaders this summer.

The current transportation funding measure is scheduled to expire in July, and it has been a decade since Congress has passed an extension that last longer than two years.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R), who is also vice-president of the Conference of Mayors, said during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show that is time for Congress to step up to the plate and pass a long-term infrastructure funding bill.

“First of all, we’re looking to Washington to take the lead on the transportation bill,” he said.

Bill would eliminate past earmarks to free up money for highways 
A Republican senator is pushing legislation to eliminate earmarks that were included in past transportation funding bills that are still on the federal books.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said the measure could generate about $2 billion that could be used to pay for a new transportation funding measure this year as Congress is scrambling to come up with a way to beat a July 31 deadline for the expiration of the infrastructure spending measure.

Flake cited a report from the Congressional Research Service that there are 70 earmarks that are worth more than $120 million still on the books from transportation bill that were passed between 1989 and 2004, although Congress officially abolished the practice when Republicans took over the House in 2010.

Road builders defend proposed gas-tax hike
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) is defending its proposal to increase the federal gas tax by  15 cents per gallon to help pay for infrastructure improvements amid GOP opposition.

Republican lawmakers in Congress have ruled out asking drivers to pay more at the pump, even as they struggle to find a way to pay for an extension of transportation funding that is currently set to expire on July 31.

ARTBA President Pete Ruane said in a letter to the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday that a gas tax hike would only add a small amount to the cost of filling up for drivers and would generate $400 billion that could be used to pay for a long-term transportation bill.

Pa. Turnpike commission considers getting rid of callboxes
Pennsylvania Turnpike drivers used the bright yellow roadside emergency call boxes more than 18,000 times a year 15 years ago. Now, it’s about 1,200 times a year.

About half of Americans owned a cellphone 15 years ago. Now, ownership hovers at about 90 percent, so the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is considering whether it’s time to scale back one of the nation’s last and largest emergency call box systems.

Senate Transportation Committee approves highway worker protection bill 
Toughening penalties for drivers in roadway construction areas, the Senate Transportation Committee today unanimously approved a law to increase protection for highway and emergency personnel in work zones, Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-46) disclosed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Posing stricter consequences for distracted or aggressive drivers who endanger or kill a highway worker in a construction zone, Senate Bill 887 would impose fines and penalties in excess of $1,000. More serious offenses could result in a $5,000 fine and a six-month driver’s license suspension, while violations resulting in a death would carry a maximum $10,000 fine and a one-year license revocation.

Highway Funding Hits the Credit Wall
If you were running a business that needed the next three years of income to meet its current financial obligations, you would want to pull in some new revenue in a hurry.

But that’s the state of affairs that Sarah Puro, principal analyst with the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, laid out for the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF), in a presentation at IBTTA’s Transportation Finance and Road Usage Charging Conference earlier this year.

Puro reinforced the point the highway infrastructure community has been hearing and making for years: that the federal highway and transit accounts will both have difficulty meeting all their obligations this summer without the latest in a series of cash infusions.

Pay-Per-Mile Tax is Only a Partial Fix 
For years, academics and transportation experts have been discussing the possibility of taxing drivers for each mile they travel on the nation’s roads.  This “vehicle miles traveled tax” (VMT tax) could either supplement or replace the existing gas tax as the primary method of funding transportation infrastructure.

To test the technology needed to record and report vehicle mileage, Oregon on July 1 will launch an experiment that will give 5,000 drivers the option of permanently exempting themselves from the gas tax in exchange for paying a new VMT tax.[1]  This is a major step forward for a policy idea that has until now been implemented only in temporary, small-scale pilot projects.

Congestion a concern even as region’s commutes rank near average
U.S. Census data from 2013 compiled by the Associated Press show the average Pittsburgh commute is about 26.1 minutes, slightly longer than the national average of 25.8 minutes. About 78 percent of commuters travel alone in their cars; 8.5 percent carpool; 5 percent take public transit; and the rest walk, cycle or use other means.

The worst congestion occurs along the interstates, much as in other metropolitan areas, said PennDOT District 11 traffic engineer Todd Kravits. The knottiest points occur when drivers exit one ramp and must cross lanes to enter another, such as inbound traffic through the Fort Pitt Tunnel via Banksville Road.


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