State uses little-publicized change to fiscal code to add $2.1 billion to roads, bridges
March 1, 2017 12:00 AM
Funds for interstates and maintenance have not had substantial increases since the 2005-06 fiscal year.
By Ed Blazina / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pennsylvania will use a little-publicized change in the state fiscal code as part of the 2016-17 budget to fund $2.1 billion in additional road and bridge repairs over a 10-year period beginning in 2018-19.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced the new program, known as Road Maintenance and Preservation (Road MaP), on Tuesday and said it will provide money earmarked for capital projects on interstates and less traveled highways, plus more money for maintenance work in Pennsylvania Department of Transportation districts across the state. Funds for interstates and maintenance have not had substantial increases since the 2005-06 fiscal year.
The money for the additional work will come from a not-well-known change the Legislature made in how the Motor Vehicle Fund is distributed. The fund generates about $2.8 billion a year through the state gasoline tax as well as fees paid for driver licenses and vehicle registrations.
In the past, a portion of that fund, which generates about $208 billion a year, has been used to pay for state troopers to patrol state roads. That escalating cost reached $801 million this year.
But as part of the state budget process last summer, the Legislature passed Act 85, which freezes the contribution at $801 million for 2017-18 as well. For the next 10 years, the contribution from the Motor Vehicle Fund will decrease 4 percent each year until it reaches $500 million.
PennDOT had encouraged legislators to allow the agency to keep more of the Motor Vehicle Fund and make the change quicker, but given its budget restrictions the state wasn’t able to pay for more of the state police budget from the general fund.
“We’ve made significant progress on our roadway and bridge needs and the Road MaP program will amplify our efforts statewide,” Mr. Wolf said in a statement announcing the program. “We’re bringing an even bigger focus to our interstates and to the lower-volume roads where many Pennsylvanians live and work.”
Overall, the new program will add about $110 million a year in capital spending, which is set at $2.9 billion statewide for 2017-18. That money will be split with about $50 million extra a year dedicated to interstate preservation and reconstruction and $60 million a year set aside for improvements on other roads and bridges.
There is no breakdown yet on how that money will be spread across the state.
The state also will add about $1 billion over 10 years for local PennDOT districts to spend on maintenance projects on its local road and bridges. That will start small with $16 million statewide beginning in July, but each year another $16 million will be added so the fund keeps growing. This year the state expects to spend $1.9 billion on maintenance.
In this area, District 11 Executive Dan Cessna said that will mean an additional $1,488,000 in maintenance money in the first year — $1,075,000 in Allegheny County, $262,000 in Beaver and $151,000 in Lawrence. That money is used for smaller projects such as milling and paving streets such as Pittsburgh’s Penn Avenue and performing routine maintenance and inspections on roads and bridges.
“It’s a smaller amount in the first year, but it increases,” Mr. Cessna said. “It’s not an insignificant amount the first year. We are sorting through the projects now so we can be ready to go when the money becomes available.”
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