Corbett to Unveil Transportation Plan Soon

As Governor Tom Corbett preps to unveil his transportation funding plan, House Democrats have already introduced a series of related bills.  They reflect the recommendations of the Governor’s Transportation Funding Advisory Committee, which released its report in August 2011.  Some of the funding streams it outlined as ways to help close the $3.5-billion dollar annual gap include: uncapping the oil company franchise tax and indexing vehicle & driver fees to inflation. 

House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) tells Radio PA that Pennsylvanians are willing to invest in their transportation infrastructure.  “They’ll pay a little bit more knowing that it is going to improve roads and bridges and transit – make them safer – and put their families and neighbors to work again.”

Dermody says the governor needs to step up and lead on this issue, and lawmakers will get to work from there. 

One lawmaker that’s been working behind the scenes with the Corbett administration for weeks is State Senator John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), chairman of the Transportation Committee.  “The Senate will be very assertive this year in transportation funding,” Rafferty says, noting that he has legislation that’s almost ready to be introduced. 

Meanwhile, Governor Corbett has publicly said he will introduce a transportation funding plan before his February 5th budget address, meaning some much anticipated news will be made within the next two weeks.

Automakers Respond to Natural Gas Boom

Pennsylvania was among the first states to sign a memorandum of understanding, which indicates their intent to start converting fleet vehicles to natural gas.  Only a matter of months after the agreement was first announced, Chrysler and GM are unveiling plans to produce natural gas-powered pickup trucks.  “We are going to try to convert our fleets – light duty trucks – over to natural gas, to give Detroit some impetus to do this,” Governor Tom Corbett said on Radio PA’s Ask the Governor program.  “I can’t say directly that’s what Chrysler looked at, but I think it certainly had an influence.”   

Corbett believes the natural gas boom is changing everything, and as a result the natural gas infrastructure will develop fairly quickly. 

House Republican Whip Stan Saylor (R-York) is adding legislative muscle to the conversation by introducing a bill that would incent companies to convert their commercial fleets to natural gas.  “By incentivizing these vehicles we will use natural gas, which will spur construction of the statewide refueling network that is needed to create and spread the use of natural gas vehicles here in Pennsylvania,” Saylor said at a capitol news conference. 

The network of refueling stations would then make it practical for consumers to drive natural gas cars.  Saylor believes it would both lower transportation costs and further expand Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry. 

Saylor’s bill would tap the state’s Clean Air Fund for $6-million dollars a year, over the next five years, to provide grants that help cover the costs of converting large trucks to natural gas.  “This is a perfect example of why that fund was created,” Saylor says, noting that natural gas vehicles reduce carbon emissions by 90%. 

Saylor says the natural gas equivalent of a gallon of gas only costs about $2-dollars, compared to gasoline prices which are approaching the $4-dollar mark.

Turnpike to Take Next Step Toward All-Electronic Tolls

Imagine a Turnpike with no toll booths.  A new study concludes that vision to be feasible both financially and physically.  The first advantage cited in the Turnpike’s feasibility study is safety, because motorists would no longer have to slow down, jockey for position and merge at every toll plaza.

“We’re also looking at a cleaner environment, improved convenience because you don’t have to slow down, and certainly – as the study points out – operational efficiencies because it’s a much less expensive way to collect a toll,” Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Carl DeFebo explains. 

But the 39-page document does note several disadvantages as well.  For instance, a high initial cost of conversion and the number of images to be processed in order to bill non E-ZPass customers.  An All-Electronic Toll system would likely involve photos being snapped of non E-ZPass vehicles; the owners would then receive an invoice for the required tolls. 

E-ZPass users currently pay about 17% less than cash-paying Turnpike travelers.  DeFebo says they would continue to pay a lower toll rate based on the higher cost of processing invoices for non E-ZPass users. 

With the new study in hand; the Turnpike Commission will hire a program management firm to oversee the next phase of the study process.  “This is a minimum five year process,” DeFebo says, noting they could encounter a number of ‘stop signs’ along the way.

PA Mulls Extending, Expanding Red Light Camera Program

21-states and the District of Columbia allow for some form of red light cameras.  Pennsylvania can be counted among them, but the Automated Red Light Enforcement program is currently limited to Philadelphia, where the cameras are operating at 19-intersections. 

Appearing before the House Transportation Committee, Monday, PennDOT testified to the program’s success.  “We found that there was a 15 – 16% reduction in red light running crashes, overall, throughout the entire city,” says Deputy Secretary Scott Christie.  He also testified to a 50% reduction in violations after 18-months. 

AAA Mid-Atlantic supports Pennsylvania’s program because they say it is well-written.  “Traffic enforcement, and especially automated means such as red light cameras, must be clearly focused on safety – not revenue generation – to earn AAA’s support,” says Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Ron Kosh.     

The committee heard conflicting testimony on whether the implementation of red light cameras actually increases the instances of rear-end crashes at busy intersections.  Regardless, Jim Walker with the National Motorists Association says there’s a better way to improve intersections safety: increasing the duration of yellow lights.  “A 2003 Texas Transportation Institute Study concluded an increase of one-half to one and a half seconds of yellows, decreased red light violations by at least 50%,” says the association’s Jim Walker. 

Legislation to expand the use of red light cameras to 19 additional cities has already passed the state Senate with a vote of 34 – 14.  Under SB 595, fines would max out at $100, and the revenue would have to be used for traffic safety improvements.  Philadelphia’s program is also on track to sunset at the end of the year, unless state lawmakers act to extend it.