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Task force unveils transportation funding proposals

December 4, 2019

A PA House Republican task force whose mission was to address transportation funding needs has finished its assignment and presented its report.

The task force, chaired by Rep. Martina White of Philadelphia, made several recommendations, beginning with lessening or halting revenue diversions from the Motor License Fund, the constitutionally protected repository for fuel taxes and license and registration fees.

As we have noted many times, $9 billion has been diverted from that fund since 2002. Nearly half of that diversion has occurred since 2012-13, including more than $700 million in this fiscal year.

Pennsylvania’s tax rate is approximately 58 cents per gallon – now second-highest in the country – and more than a quarter of that is diverted for things other than highway construction. The task force recommended that the planned rollback of diversions be accelerated from the current 4 percent annually to 8 percent.

The task force also recommended expanding public-private partnership opportunities, streamlining permitting processes, changing the way large highway projects are bid out, giving local governments the ability to impose additional fees and creating county infrastructure banks.

While the task force’s recommendations could help in the short term – say, three to five years – we have yet to establish a long-term vision for how the ideal a transportation infrastructure could evolve beyond that.

For transportation advocates, the 43-page report is worth a read. You’ll find it at this link.

 

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Automated speed enforcement cameras are up and running

November 13, 2019

The 60-day clock has begun for the “pre-enforcement testing period” of automated speed cameras in Pennsylvania highway work zones. That means fines for traveling more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit could begin to be levied as soon as mid-January.

At present, there are two speed cameras in operation. One is on I-78 between mile markers 35 and 43, and the other on I-476 between mile markers 31 and 38.

As is the case in Maryland, the Commonwealth will let you know exactly where they are deployed. All one needs to do is visit the work zone cameras website, conveniently found at workzonecameras.penndot.gov. Additionally, there will be two warning signs in advance of any automated work zone.

Once enforcement begins, owners of offending vehicles will receive a violation notice in the mail. A first offense will result in a warning, a second offense a $75 fine and subsequent offenses fines of $150. There will be no points assessed on drivers’ licenses.

Maryland’s automated speed enforcement program has been in place for several years and has proven to be successful in encouraging motorists to slow down. When the program began, 7 percent of drivers were in violation. Today, the violation rate has dropped to less than 1 percent.

“While the new law focuses on active work zones, where workers are present, the traveling public can also benefit from reducing speeds in work zones,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “According to the Federal Highway Administration, nearly 80 percent of victims of work-zone fatalities are drivers or passengers.”

 

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PHIA holds annual conference

October 18, 2019

This week PHIA held its annual Transportation Conference and Luncheon in Harrisburg.

The presentations featured:

  • PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton with an update on various toll road projects.
  • Republican and Democratic House Transportation Chairs Tim Hennessey and Mike Carroll fielding a variety of transportation policy questions.
  • Policy Directors Jessica Shirley and Natasha Fackler of the Department of Environmental Protection and PennDOT, respectively, with a briefing on Pennsylvania’s Transportation Climate Initiative.
  • ARTBA’s Senior VP Dean Franks with a federal funding update.
  • Transportation Advisory Committee Member and PHIA Board Member Mark Murawski discussing a future TAC study on a local bridge investment plan.
  • PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards with an update on an array of the department’s latest initiatives and impending funding challenges.

The lunch was capped off with remarks from Republican House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler providing the House leadership’s views on transportation matters and other issues of importance. He said reaching out to local legislators and offering to serve as their go-to subject matter experts on transportation issues would help the industry and lawmakers alike.

A big thanks to the presenters and attendees from PHIA President Jamie Van Buren and Managing Director Jason Wagner. We received positive feedback on the morning program and luncheon and look forward to another successful conference next year.

 

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Pa. autonomous vehicle team receives $8.4 million grant for work-zone study

October 3, 2019

A team consisting of Carnegie Mellon and Penn State universities, along with PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, has received an $8.4 million grant for testing and evaluation of integrating autonomous driving systems in work zones.

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Transportation, is the first of its kind in the U.S. It will enable the team to study whether improved connectivity, enhanced visibility and high definition mapping will help autonomous vehicles travel more safely through work zones.

While autonomous vehicles have made significant progress in their navigational capabilities, work zones continue to be more of a challenge, primarily because work zone cues are designed for human drivers.

“Given Pennsylvania’s leadership in advancing autonomous vehicle technology, it’s not surprising that this team received a grant for this project,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner.

An article detailing the grant award can be found at this link.

 

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Electric vehicle bill may be on tap

September 5, 2019

 

Members of the General Assembly will return from summer recess in the coming weeks. PHIA is hopeful that the House will quickly take up an electric vehicle bill, House Bill 1392, sponsored by Democratic House Transportation Chair Mike Carroll.

Rep. Mike Carroll

The measure would impose annual fees on all-electric vehicles. It was approved by the House Transportation Committee near the end of the spring legislative session and awaits a vote from the full House before advancing to the Senate.

The bill would eliminate the alternative fuel tax on electricity and replace it with a $150 fee for noncommercial electric vehicles and $250 for commercial vehicles. It was conceived as a way to make sure that electric vehicles contribute to the upkeep of the roads and bridges on which they drive. Conventional vehicles contribute by paying a liquid fuels tax.

“The measure would have very minimal impact initially, because electric vehicles – especially EVs that are totally electric – do not yet have significant market share,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “But as emission standards become tighter, and technology continues to advance, they will gain in popularity.”

Volkswagen recently announced a major EV initiative and has several new models in development, to be rolled out as early as next year.

“We need to be ready and make sure public policy is in synch with technology and market changes,” Wagner said. “It’s important that everyone contributes their fair share to building and maintaining our bridges and highways.”