Pennsylvania needs comprehensive, long-term transportation funding

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Newspapers across Pennsylvania last week published an open letter to Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly signed by dozens of business leaders -- from the CEOs of major corporations such as U.S. Steel, PPG Industries and PNC Financial Services Group to the owner of a small printing shop in rural Westmoreland County -- urging them to act now to pass a transportation bill that preserves and expands the transportation network across the state. We cannot afford to let this opportunity slip away.

Maintaining a transportation network is a core function of government. It is an economic competitiveness issue. It is a quality of life issue. And it is a safety issue.

A successful funding plan must have three characteristics. It must be comprehensive. It must address investment and preservation needs across the entire transportation network -- including roads, bridges, highways, transit, freight and passenger rail, and pedestrian safety.

A successful funding plan must be sufficient. It needs to be large enough in scope to adequately address years of underinvestment in transportation.

Three years ago, the state Transportation Advisory Committee found the annual gap was $3.5 billion. Two years ago, Gov. Corbett's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission determined that a $2.5 billion- to $2.7 billion-per-year package was the appropriate target.

The governor's proposal of $1.8 billion was a good first step. The Senate has approved $2.5 billion, with the House considering a smaller package.

The final package must contain enough money for transit. If not, the Port Authority of Allegheny County will be doomed to a death spiral of budget deficits and service cuts in the years ahead. The Port Authority has cut costs, raised fares, improved efficiency and reformed its labor agreements. It needs a sufficient level of state support to survive, and the Allegheny Conference membership would actively oppose any funding package that does not provide that.

Finally, a successful transportation funding package must be sustainable. It must be a long-term fix. It must not lead to another funding crisis three or four or five years down the road.

The General Assembly has a difficult task before it. But the cost of inaction is higher than the cost of action. We cannot afford the threats to safety of failing infrastructure. We cannot afford the cost to our economy if raw materials can't get to factories, if people can't get to work and if goods can't get to market.

And we literally can't afford the cost of inaction. Between the money for gas wasted waiting in traffic, additional repairs and maintenance traveling over crumbling roads and time lost in congestion, the average Pennsylvania motorist burns through nearly $100 every month, while an adequate funding package would cost only around $13 per month.

Different communities need different kinds of transportation. An extensive network of state roads and highways keeps rural and urban communities connected. And that means rural counties have far more miles of state roads per person than urban counties, even if those roads are empty most of the time. In fact, the five counties with the lowest populations in the state have nearly 30 times more miles of state roads per person than the five counties with the highest populations. And those roads are built and maintained with gas taxes from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and other urban areas around the state.

Public transit is a necessary part of the urban economies that provide most of the economic production in the state. In densely populated urban areas, we need to move people on buses and trains. Gas tax revenue moves from urban to rural areas to fund roads in the same way that some tax revenue moves from rural to urban areas to fund mass-transit systems.

Funding transportation infrastructure has always been a core function of government. Adam Smith pointed that out in his book, "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776, and it's still true today.

Across Pennsylvania, we are different communities -- urban, rural, suburban -- but we have a common need: A robust transportation network supported by a funding package that is comprehensive, adequate and sustainable. Delivering that for the good of the commonwealth is the task before us today.


Dennis Yablonsky is CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. This is based on testimony recently presented by the Allegheny Conference and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce to the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee.


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