On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Pennsylvania received some bad news as its credit rating was downgraded. Drivers on the PA Turnpike received some good news regarding the speed limit on a 100-mile stretch of the toll highway. And are we finally able to see what the cars of the future will be like?
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After years of describing the situation as a crisis, lawmakers in the state House finally approved a comprehensive funding plan for roads, bridges and mass transit in Pennsylvania late Tuesday.
The favorable vote came just one day after the House rejected the same proposal. PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch says he believes some lawmakers reconsidered the impact of their negative votes overnight and that led to a change of heart for 6 Republicans and 2 Democrats.
Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) said he changed his vote after being reassured the bill would keep changes to reduce laborers’ pay on smaller public works projects, and that the Senate would further amend the measure to reduce the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s current borrowing load. One House GOP aide suggested that deal had yet to be sewed up.
The plan would provide about $2.3 billion annually, and includes increased fees and the removal of a cap on a wholesale gasoline tax. A block of Republican lawmakers had opposed those revenue generators, while a group of Democrats objected to demands by the GOP for prevailing wage reform. In the end, the bill had a little bit to make everyone unhappy, but not enough to stop a majority of lawmakers from approving the much-needed funding plan.
The vote is also a much-needed victory for the Corbett Administration, which lobbied hard to get lawmakers to pass a funding plan for road and bridge repair and mass transit. The failure of this major initiative had been hanging over the governor’s head on the eve of a re-election campaign in 2014.
The plan now goes to the Senate, which passed a similar proposal last June. Senate leaders were planning to meet Wednesday morning to discuss the legislation.
The legislature was unable to agree on a transportation funding package before the summer session break. Now, lawmakers have been told that the consequences are coming soon.
State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch told the state senate Transportation committee during a hearing Wednesday that the lack of additional funding will mean fewer contracts let this year and more restrictions on aging state and locally owned bridges.
PennDOT structural engineers are evaluating over one thousand state owned bridges and Schoch says there are an equal number of locally owned bridges that are also candidates for weight restrictions. He expects about half of the bridges will see new restrictions starting this summer
Schoch says they have no choice with no new funding for reconstruction and replacement.
Schoch says the restrictions will mean longer commutes for haulers, school buses and emergency vehicles. He also told the transportation committee that even if lawmakers approve a funding plan in the fall, this construction season will already have been lost for projects that might have been started with the additional money.
In other testimony, an analysis by the American Road and Transportation Builders Alliance says fewer contracts could cost the state’s economy more than one billion over five years and jeopardize thousands of jobs.
The organization’s chief economist adds that commuters, first responders, school buses and trucks cross structurally deficit bridges in Pennsylvania an average of 51.5 million times per day.
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