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TAC report paints glum picture of transportation funding

March 7, 2019

Most readers of this publication and George Wolff’s Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition newsletter are aware of the transportation funding issues facing the Commonwealth.

Those issues include the lack of progress in achieving a federal highway funding solution, a lawsuit challenging the appropriateness of the Turnpike Commission’s subsidies to public transportation, the diversion of revenue from the Motor License Fund, and the declining revenue generated from fuel taxes and license and registration fees.

A recent report from the state’s Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) on transportation funding risks corroborates the challenges facing political leaders and policymakers, beginning as early as Pennsylvania’s new fiscal year on July 1.

The Turnpike has been unable to make the last three quarterly installments on the $450 million annual payment required by Act 44 of 2007. The matter is pending in federal court, and the uncertainty prevents the turnpike from securing the required bonds.

While $400 million of that annual payment will expire at the end of 2022, the lawsuit accelerates the date of reckoning. Couple that with the threat of repealing a measure that would allocate proceeds of vehicle sales taxes to public transportation, along with the other issues identified above, and the state could be facing a worst-case scenario that would remove $18.5 billion in transportation funding from the fiscal years of 2021-22 through 2029-30, according to the TAC study.

“Needless to say, the report paints a dire picture,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “And even though we may avoid the worst-case scenario, these issues will not ease without some tough decision-making on the part of our state and federal policymakers.”

To view a PowerPoint presentation on the TAC report’s findings, click here.

 

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Capital Beltway tabbed for major improvements

January 10, 2019

Those who commute on Harrisburg’s Capital Beltway received good news as we rang in the new year, with PennDOT announcing a couple of big-ticket projects involving Interstates 83 and 81 and Route 581.

Plans call for widening I-83 to 12 lanes – six in each direction – between Paxton and Second streets. A new interchange would be built at Cameron Street, and the 13th and Paxton street interchanges would be eliminated.

PennDOT said the goals are to relieve congestion and improve safety.  Officials estimate the cost at $700 million, and the work would be done between 2022 and 2030, although preliminary engineering has already begun.

The I-81 work would turn most of the 89-mile stretch between the Maryland line and I-78 into a six-lane highway. The traffic volume along the I-81 corridor is significantly greater than what it was designed to handle, and it is projected to continue to increase.

“The I-83 project is farther along than the I-81 project,” noted PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner, “and it’s not clear yet where the money for I-81 will come from and when.  PennDOT said it’s hoping for federal funding, but policymakers in Washington still haven’t addressed funding needs.”

 

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Wolf administration begins search for public transit solution

December 4, 2018

Faced with the expiration of a $400 million subsidy from the Turnpike for public transportation, the Wolf administration is beginning to set the stage for replacing that revenue.

PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards, at the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors Fall Conference last month, outlined the Commonwealth’s transportation funding needs, asserting that the $3.5 billion annual funding gap calculated in 2010 will have more than doubled by 2020 unless policymakers act. She said public transportation funding is the Commonwealth’s most pressing transportation need.

Then, last week, Governor Wolf said he supports changing the transportation funding method to relieve the burden on the Turnpike.

The combination of two legislative measures – one in 2007 and the other in 2013 – provided for a $450 million subsidy to public transportation and resulted in toll increases every year. The Turnpike has greatly increased its debt.

“I think there’s bipartisan support for actually taking a look at that, because I think we all recognize that’s unsustainable,” the governor said. “People using the turnpike are paying too much. The turnpike really is driving business away.”

Under the funding arrangement, $400 million of the subsidy will disappear by 2023 at the latest.  A lawsuit filed by an independent truckers’ organization could hasten the subsidy’s demise.

“Nobody has come up with a specific solution yet, and it won’t be easy,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “It’s encouraging to see the administration launch the process.”

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Rafferty named PHIA Advocate of the Year; Senate approves automated speed enforcement

October 4, 2018

PHIA has had an eventful couple of weeks, beginning with our annual transportation conference last week and capped by the state Senate’s 47-1 concurrence vote on the long-awaited automated speed enforcement bill on Tuesday.

Due to scheduling considerations, the highlight of the transportation conference occurred early in the day when state Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) was named PHIA Advocate of the Year. The longtime Senate Transportation Committee chair has been a strong and consistent advocate for many transportation issues, not the least of which was his role in introducing and pushing for passage of Act 89 of 2013, the measure that has increased Pennsylvania’s transportation funding by $2.3 billion per year.

The award, PHIA’s highest honor, was created in 1982. The bar for receiving it is high, however, as it has been awarded just 25 times in 36 years. Senator Rafferty joins an impressive list of advocates, which can be viewed here.

As the number of legislative session days was winding down, the Senate stepped up once again, concurring with House revisions to the Senate’s original automated speed enforcement bill, which had been introduced by Sen. David Argall.  The bill now goes to Governor Wolf for final approval, and he has expressed his support for the measure.

After one warning, the legislation provides for $75 to $150 fines to be levied to owners of vehicles that exceed the posted speed limit by 11 miles per hour or more in active work zones. A similar measure in Maryland has resulted in a significant decrease in excessive speeding in work zones, now at a rate of less than 1 percent.

The measure, a five-year pilot, was promoted as a highway worker safety issue. Pennsylvania’s speed cameras could begin to be put in use 120 days after enactment.

 

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CSVT reaches another milestone

September 18, 2018

The fourth and final bidding on the northern section of the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway took place last week, and we thought this would be a good time for an update on the project.

The CSVT is a rare new capacity project funded by Act 89 of 2013. The vast majority of construction projects made possible by the funding act are focused on restoring existing bridges and highways.

The paving for the project will begin next year, with completion set for 2022. Completion for the southern section is up in the air due to the need to re-route a section of the thruway to avoid building it over fly ash basins.

Despite the record-setting rainfall this construction season, PennDOT reports that construction of the bridge spanning the Susquehanna has fallen behind only by two to three weeks. The Union County side of the bridge is expected to be completed by the end of October, except for the paving.

A four-lane, 13-mile limited access highway will separate trucks and through traffic from local traffic, reducing congestion, improving safety and accommodating economic growth.