Gov. Corbett, MIA: Private partners won't fix old roads and bridges

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Gov. Tom Corbett and other officials gathered in New Kensington last week to celebrate a new state law that authorizes public-private partnerships to improve transportation facilities. This step could prove to be a cost-effective means of adding new roadways and bringing in new revenue, if there's sufficient interest from the private sector.

At this stage, "if" is the key word. If a company wants to build new lanes for the Parkway East and collect tolls from drivers who use it ... If a firm wants to build a bridge connecting the Pitcairn Railroad Yards to the turnpike ... If the private sector doesn't expect too much in the way of contributions from taxpayers ... Any cost estimates associated with public-private partnerships are pure conjecture.

Mr. Corbett himself noted that the real impact depends on what happens next. Let's hope the so-called P3s prove to be both useful and fruitful. But right now, Pennsylvania needs to find some real dollars -- and soon -- to repair crumbling roadways, deficient bridges and failing mass transit systems.

The same report that suggested the public-private partnerships also laid out a series of ideas with realistic revenue projections, yet they've lain dormant for more than a year. The governor's hand-picked Transportation Funding Advisory Commission came up with more than two dozen recommendations intended to close the gap between the expensive work that needs to be done and the amount of money available to pay for it.

Chief among those were taking the cap off the oil franchise tax paid by wholesalers, which would bring in $1.3 billion in five years, and increasing vehicle and driver fees to bring them in line with inflation, which would raise an estimated $574 million.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Harrisburg have expressed support for those ideas, too, but Republicans are waiting for the go-ahead from Mr. Corbett. What's he waiting for?

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