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Court halts major bridge initiative; PennDOT appeals

May 25, 2022

A Commonwealth Court judge issued an injunction last week that temporarily blocks PennDOT from proceeding with plans to restore or replace nine major bridges and pay for the initiative by tolling the bridges.

Judge Ellen Ceisler ordered the halt, ordering PennDOT to stop all studies, right-of-way acquisitions, construction or work under any contracts, and put off any planned hearings, meetings or spending, pending the resolution of a related lawsuit.

The tolls were opposed by Cumberland County and seven municipalities, which contended that the process was illegal and unconstitutional. PennDOT quickly filed an appeal.

Judge Ceisler said the Public-Private Partnership Board “essentially approved a massive multi-billion-dollar infrastructure initiative on an admittedly meager record, consisting of a four-page recommendation from (PennDOT), a presentation, and minimal discussion, and without understanding which, or how many, pieces of public infrastructure the initiative would affect.”

The nine bridges being considered are the Interstate 83 span over the Susquehanna River between Dauphin and Cumberland counties; I-78′s Lenhartsville Bridge in Berks County; I-79′s bridges over State Route 50 in Allegheny County; I-80′s bridges across Canoe Creek in Clarion County, Nescopeck Creek in Luzerne County, North Fork in Jefferson County and the Lehigh River, near Wilkes-Barre; I-81 over the Susquehanna River in northern Pennsylvania; and the Girard Point Bridge in Philadelphia.

 

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Plans for electric vehicle charging in PA

April 29, 2022

Even before the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was signed, Pennsylvania was already identifying electric vehicle charging corridors. The law provides for $7.5 billion to expand the EV charging network across the country.

Pennsylvania’s share of that will be $171.5 million for charging infrastructure, along with access to $2.5 billion in discretionary grant funding for all alternative fueling infrastructure.

As global vehicle manufacturers advance their plans to transition to EVs, the market for them will grow quickly. PennDOT held a webinar recently to provide an update on where things stand. PennDOT noted that in March 2019, there were 9,700 registered electric vehicles, and now there are 23,000.

More details from the webinar can be found at this link.

Also on the state’s to-do list is to establish a fee structure for EVs, which at present do not contribute to the restoration and upkeep of our bridge and highway infrastructure. We are hopeful that a fee structure will be addressed before the General Assembly breaks for the summer.

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The industry’s transportation funding needs explained

February 21, 2022

Governor Wolf’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, unveiled last week, contained a bit of good news regarding transportation funding. Rather than gradually reducing the annual amounts of revenue diverted from the Motor License Fund to support State Police operations, the governor proposed to take the diverted amounts down to $500 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

It means that PennDOT would have around $140 million more available next fiscal year than it would with the more gradual rollback. While that is good news, it does not completely close the transportation funding gap that Pennsylvania now has.

Most readers of this newsletter are probably aware that Pennsylvania is slated to receive $4 billion in federal transportation funding over the next five years under the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Again, good news. However, Pennsylvania must provide a local match of 20% in order to leverage the entire $4 billion in federal money. The math is easy – that’s about $1 billion in new Pennsylvania money.

As reported here two weeks ago, APC and seven other transportation construction trade groups have called for Pennsylvania to halt all diversions from the Motor License Fund. It has proven too tempting and convenient to backfill General Fund operations, such as the State Police, with revenue that was originally intended for highway construction.

It is clear from APC’s annual polling that Pennsylvania voters strongly prefer that the revenue from fuel taxes and license and registration fees be used for its intended purpose, not for other things.

At its peak, the State Police diversion was just over $800 million, which added up to the equivalent of 12 cents a gallon – more than 20% of the nearly 60 cents per gallon in fuel taxes. At $500 million, it’s the equivalent of more than 8 cents per gallon, or 14% of the state fuel taxes.

Re-dedicating all of the Motor License Fund revenue for repairing and maintaining bridges and highways would cover the matching funds requirement to receive the federal money, allow for a modest bonding program, and get Pennsylvania back on track for addressing the Commonwealth’s transportation needs – without raising fuel taxes. And it would make Pennsylvania voters happy.

 

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PennDOT announces new 511PA features

December 17, 2021

PennDOT has rolled out several significant improvements to the 511PA traveler information service, along with brief videos demonstrating how to use the new features.

One of the improvements involves personal travel alerts, which now can enable users to select the types of alerts they want to receive instead of receiving all alerts. Other types of information can be accessed using an email or mobile phone number, without creating a personalized account.

The mobile app now allows users to specify whether they are driving a personal or commercial vehicle and receive information pertinent to their type of vehicle. Anticipating a growing market for electric vehicles, the new features now include locations for charging stations.

For more information about the new features, follow this link.

 

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U.S. House passes Infrastructure Investment and Jobs bill

November 6, 2021

The logjam that had delayed passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill for months dissolved last night as the U.S. House voted 228 to 206 to concur with the Senate and send the measure to President Biden for final approval.

The logjam broke when six moderate-to-conservative Democrats threatened to withhold their votes on the bill until a nonpartisan analysis of the so-called Build Back Better plan touted by Biden could be completed. Seemingly weary of another delay in moving his agenda forward, Biden implored lawmakers to put the infrastructure measure up for a vote immediately.

The bill drew support of 13 Republicans. While few in number, it nonetheless qualifies to be described as bipartisan, as it was when it passed in the Senate in early August.

The infrastructure bill includes $550 billion in new investments and is the largest U.S. public works bill ever. It will upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports, broadband, and other public works. It is expected to create several hundred thousand jobs by 2025.

The bill passed in the Senate in August and immediately was linked to the social policy measure. The social policy bill has no Republican support and is to be considered under rules that will make it exempt from a Senate filibuster, a mechanism that enables a minority to block legislation.

The analysis of the social policy bill is expected to take at least a week and possibly will not be considered until after Thanksgiving.

This PDF (click HERE) shows what Pennsylvania will receive from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs bill compared with the FAST Act.