Senator Gene Yaw: Guest Editorial: State, region needs to support transportation funding plan
On June 30, 2013 the Pennsylvania General Assembly approved, and Governor Tom Corbett signed, a state budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 that holds the line on state spending, while providing key investment in education, public safety, economic development and job creation.
Yet, while the General Assembly and Administration were able to approve a balanced budget, compromise could not be reached on a comprehensive plan to fund a number of transportation and infrastructure improvements statewide - projects that would create significant economic development and jobs for both the long and short term in our region and across the state, while further protecting those who utilize our transportation infrastructure.
Senate Bill 1, a collaborative, bipartisan measure, introduced by my colleague Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty (R-44), would increase Pennsylvania's annual transportation investment by $2.5 billion and follows the major recommendations made by the Governor's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission. This bill, which I cosponsored, raises needed revenue through a number of sources including adjusting outdated vehicle and driver fees for inflation, surcharging fines for drivers who violate traffic laws, uncapping the Oil Company Franchise Tax over three years, and achieving significant cost savings by modernizing many PennDOT services.
Admittedly, Senate Bill 1 would result in an increase in gasoline prices and vehicle and driver fees; however, the costs of doing nothing far outweigh any purported benefits of burying your head in the sand and avoiding the issue.
Recently, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Secretary Barry Schoch referenced a study performed by TRIP, a Washington D.C. based non-profit transportation research group, which emphasized the dire costs of Pennsylvania's deteriorating roadway system. The report showed that every year Pennsylvania drivers spend an extra $9.4 billion in vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and sitting in congestion because of sub-par roads.
To put this into perspective, motorists throughout my Senate District consisting of Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Union counties could potentially pay over $1,000 a year for driving on roads that are deteriorating or that lack some desirable safety features.
Without passage of a comprehensive transportation funding plan, the number of structurally deficient bridges, now at more than 4,000, will continue to rise. Subsequently, more weight restrictions and bridge postings will occur as repairs or replacements cannot be made. Travel conditions will worsen as the number of roadway miles in poor condition will continue to increase. According to PennDOT, in 2011, Pennsylvania had 9,200 poor roadway miles that will increase to an estimated 16,000 in 2017 without additional investment. In rural Pennsylvania, students traveling to school every day in my Senate District on hundreds of school buses will have to travel increasingly longer routes on poorer roadway conditions. I, for one, feel that their safety must remain paramount.
The bottom line - This is unacceptable, and this is reality.
Earlier this year, I stood with my colleagues from the Senate and House of Representatives to applaud the recent announcement made by the Corbett Administration to fund the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway (CSVT), a four-decade old project spanning two Senate Districts. The project was included as part of the Administration's Decade of Investment Plan and would authorize $558 million dollars to the Valley's 12.4 mile project over the next 10 years.
This investment would be the single largest economic development project in the Susquehanna Valley. Furthermore, the announcement, together with the recent announcement by Moxie Energy, LLC to build two natural gas power plants in our area, would constitute nearly $2 billion dollars worth of investment in our area. This is historic. But - the CSVT project also hinges on passage of Senate Bill 1.
It is important to note that Senate Bill 1 would also provide approximately $100 million dollars for 71 other projects throughout my Senate District, and increase funding for Pennsylvania's Dirt and Gravel Road Program from $5 million to $35 million. The five county region that I represent contains more dirt and gravel roads than any other region in the state. Currently, the state's Dirt and Gravel Road Program has over 16,000 identified sites in need of repair. Funding for this program provides support to many of our rural municipalities and local businesses, as well as the PA Bureau of Forestry, PA Game Commission, PA Fish and Boat Commission and county Conservation Districts.
On June 5, 2013, Senate Bill 1 passed the state Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, 45-5, and moved to the House of Representatives for consideration. This plan has been vocally supported by the business community, chambers of commerce, engineers, contractors, AFSCME, the agriculture community and many others across Pennsylvania. Republicans and Democrats in both Chambers of the General Assembly realize and understand the importance of passing such legislation, which is why it should be one of our top priorities this fall. It is our obligation and duty as legislators to ensure that our roadways, bridges and transportation network are safe and reliable. There should be no question about it.