News

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.

 

News

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.”

 

News

Report shows Pa. highways are improving

August 23, 2019

The Reason Foundation, a self-described libertarian public policy think tank, is seldom kind to Pennsylvania in assessing the quality and performance of our transportation system. The foundation’s methodology makes for imperfect comparisons with other states, so we tend to view its reports with some skepticism.

Nevertheless, whether one agrees that Pennsylvania’s highways deserve to be ranked 35th in performance and cost effectiveness, the foundation’s latest report acknowledges that there has been improvement since its previous report, in which our ranking was 41st.

We can postulate that there would have been virtually no chance for improvement without the passage of Act 89 of 2013, which boosted fuel taxes and license and registration revenue by $2.3 billion annually. To view the foundation’s latest report, which was released this week, click here.

 

News

Partnership reaches milestone in bridge replacement program

August 1, 2019

Earlier this month, Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners began construction of the 558th and final bridge included in the Pennsylvania Rapid Bridge Replacement Program, in Straban Township, Adams County, not far from the Gettysburg Battlefield.

The program was among the early initiatives following the passage of Act 89, the transportation funding measure that raised an additional $2.3 billion in annual revenue, in November of 2013. It was a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership between Plenary Walsh and the Commonwealth, costing $899 million.

While this final bridge is expected to be completed this fall, the partnership will continue for 25 years, as Plenary Walsh will be responsible for maintaining all of the program’s bridges before turning that responsibility back to PennDOT. The private-sector consortium also financed and designed the bridges in addition to building them.

When the project was unveiled, PennDOT noted that it would enable the Commonwealth to replace the bridges decades sooner than with a more traditional approach. It also enabled the Commonwealth to put the distinction of leading the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges into the proverbial rear-view mirror, helping to reduce the number from more than 6,000 to about half of that.

 

Events

Fuel-tax drop reflects need for funding solutions

July 19, 2019

John Finnerty, who covers the Statehouse for newspapers in Johnstown, Meadville, New Castle, Sharon and Sunbury, dug up an interesting story recently noting that Motor License Fund revenue fell $58 million short of projections in the recently ended fiscal year.

While the percentage of the shortfall is relatively small, it portends a growing threat to highway funding in Pennsylvania. As fuel efficiency continues to improve, and demand for alternative fuel vehicles grows, our reliance on a consumption tax presents challenges.

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, Rep. Mike Carroll, of Luzerne County, Democratic chair of the House Transportation Committee, has introduced a bill that would establish an annual fee for entirely electric vehicles. The bill advanced through the transportation panel with overwhelming support and awaits a full House vote and Senate consideration this fall.

While EVs are supposed to pay an alternative fuel tax to make up for the revenue lost by avoiding a gasoline or diesel tax, the procedure is cumbersome, and many EV owners are probably not even aware of the requirement. The Carroll bill would eliminate the alternative fuel tax and replace it with the annual fee.

There are other issues that need to be resolved, such as how to make sure that hybrid owners, who pay some fuel taxes, pay their fair share for road maintenance and repair. Perhaps they will be asked to pay a smaller fee than EV owners.

Representative Carroll believes the ultimate answer will be a mileage-based fee, which would most closely align the cost of highway maintenance with the responsibility for wear and tear.

To read Finnerty’s entire article, click here.