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Transportation advocates turn attention toward Washington

July 8, 2021

Two weeks ago, we expressed optimism that the then soon-to-be-enacted PA budget would include a boost in transportation funding. We’re pleased to report that the General Assembly and governor saw fit to add $279 million to PennDOT’s construction program this fiscal year, enough to keep hundreds of highway builders working and continue much-needed bridge and road improvements. The added revenue comes from American Rescue Act funds.

As we put the budget behind us and state lawmakers recess until late September, our attention turns toward activities in Washington, where the bipartisan Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act awaits Senate approval after advancing from a unanimous Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Our ever-vigilant Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition distributed this draft letter to Coalition members asking them to consider contacting Senators Casey and Toomey to push for Senate leaders to schedule floor time for the bill this month. Doing so would signal support for the measure, which would increase federal highway investment by 34 percent.

As those who follow transportation funding know, the previous funding mechanism expired in 2020, but the renewal process stalled and the funding program was extended for just a year. A longer-term funding mechanism would provide the certainty that the industry requires to function efficiently.

We hope to be able to report good news in the coming weeks.

 

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Highway builders await budget approval with optimism

June 25, 2021

It appears that the 2021-22 Pennsylvania state budget could be wrapped up by the end of this week. The construction industry is hopeful that its advocacy efforts will pay off with additional funding for PennDOT’s capital projects, which could support several thousand family-sustaining jobs for this construction season.

The advocacy efforts generated hundreds of emails and phone calls to legislators and Governor Wolf. The contacts were made to demonstrate widespread support for addressing PennDOT’s short-term funding needs, nudging the capital project expenditures back closer to where they have been in recent years. They had been proposed to dip to levels not seen since 2008.

The advocacy efforts also included news media outreach through TV, radio and print media outlets. APC’s Bob Latham was at the center of those efforts. To hear Bob’s 4½-minute interview on ABC27’s “This Week in Pennsylvania,” follow this link.

We’ll be back with an update once the budget is approved.

 

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Congressman Lamb offers federal take on transportation issues

May 28, 2021

This week, the popular Associated Pennsylvania Constructors Speaker Series welcomed U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-17) to share his perspective on various transportation issues – primarily on funding.

Lamb, one of several PA members of Congress on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, explained the genesis of a bill he is sponsoring that would send federal money directly to state departments of transportation to keep projects going that have been stalled by falling gas-tax revenue. Pennsylvania would receive $720 million.

Other points he made include:

  • The consensus for a Vehicle Miles Traveled fee to replace consumption taxes on liquid fuels seems to be growing, but it will still be a few years away and will probably require pilot projects to work out methods for tracking miles and collecting revenue.
  • “Infrastructure” – as defined by the Problem-Solvers Caucus (of which he is a member) – consists of traditional components such as bridges, highways and water systems, along with the electrical grid and high-speed internet.
  • Paying for infrastructure will probably consist of multiple measures, such as increasing the corporate tax rate, improving tax enforcement and giving the IRS additional resources.

Asked what could be done to help move infrastructure initiatives forward, he suggested that members of the construction industry contact their congressional representatives and urge support for infrastructure improvements.

“It’s time to go big on this thing,” he said.

To view his 30-minute discussion on transportation issues, follow this link.

 

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Biden plan would address transportation needs

April 9, 2021

President Biden’s recent appearance in Pittsburgh, in which he unveiled what he called the American Jobs Plan, has drawn considerable discussion across the nation. While some aspects of it have drawn criticism, many people have embraced the transportation infrastructure portions.

While details have yet to be determined, the general concepts seem sound. They include:

  • Modernizing 20,000 miles of highways, roads and streets.
  • Fixing the 10 most economically significant bridges in the country in need of reconstruction.
  • Repairing the worst 10,000 smaller bridges, providing critical linkages to communities.
  • Replacing thousands of buses and rail cars, repairing hundreds of stations, renewing airports and expanding public transportation and rail into new communities.

“Nobody expects that the president’s plan will turn out to be exactly as he proposed it, but the transportation portions of it would create tens of thousands of jobs and address the critical needs to restore the infrastructure,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “We’ll see if Congress and the president can finally come to a consensus on transportation funding.”

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Governor calls for fuel tax phase-out, creates funding commission

March 19, 2021

Last week, Governor Wolf announced he wants to phase out the Commonwealth’s liquid fuel taxes, and he created the Transportation Revenue Options Commission to explore alternatives to that revenue source.

APC’s Bob Latham was named to the commission, along with other stakeholders, including several others from the construction industry.

The governor noted what we have noted in this space many times – that a national energy policy that encourages reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions, coupled with automakers determined to move the market toward cleaner energy, are making the consumption taxes increasingly less reliable as a funding source for transportation infrastructure.

The coronavirus pandemic has also had a stifling effect on transportation revenue, affecting public transportation, the Turnpike, and other transportation modes as well as highway builders. It appears that the negative impact of the pandemic will be with us for some time.

The governor’s new commission will meet next week and is tasked with submitting funding options by Aug. 1. It will be chaired by PennDOT Secretary Yasmin Gramian. In addition to industry representatives, members will include economic, and community stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, including majority and minority leaders from the House and Senate Transportation and Appropriations committees.

The commission appears to have some similarities to the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, which helped bring us Act 89 of 2013. For more details about the commission, including a listing of members, click here.