State takes newest stab at healing transit woes

Blue-ribbon panel seeks funding ideas

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HARRISBURG -- Leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike, adding more interstate tolls and putting a surcharge on gasoline are ideas that have been proposed and shot down over the years as leaders searched for ways to pay for road improvements, bridge repairs and mass transit upkeep.

Gov. Tom Corbett is no closer to a solution than his predecessors, but he's ready to hear ideas, and he has convened a panel of experts to provide them.

"We need a comprehensive, strategic blueprint for how we pay for years of underinvestment in our roads, bridges and mass transit systems," Mr. Corbett said in a written statement issued Friday.

He has charged Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch with leading a new Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, which will explore options.

"Pennsylvanians expect and deserve to have a transportation system that improves not just their safety but their overall quality of life. The time has come to put a financial plan in place that not only addresses our transportation needs but also takes into account our nation's energy objectives and realities," Mr. Corbett said.

To some House Democrats, though, the effort is futile unless Mr. Corbett changes his stance on new revenue.

"We're severely constrained by the governor's commitment to not raise taxes or fees. That certainly puts us in a bind," said Rep. Mike McGeehan, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee. "Beyond the parameters of increasing the gas tax or raising some other revenues, this commission isn't going to get anywhere."

Still, he said, he is encouraged that Mr. Corbett tapped qualified representatives from many diverse stakeholder groups to fill the commission.

House Democratic Whip Joe Markosek of Monroeville also has faith in the panel but wonders what the governor will do with their recommendations.

"Many of these folks I would consider to be transportation all-stars. They're the people I would have picked," he said. "They'll come up with the right answers. It's just a question of whether the governor and the majority in the Legislature are willing to do what needs to be done to take care of our massive infrastructure problem."

The 36-member commission comprises state and local government officials and leaders in engineering, trucking, construction, banking, railroads, commerce and aviation.

Western Pennsylvanians on the committee include:

• Dennis Yablonsky, chief executive officer of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and former secretary of Community and Economic Development.

• Brad Mallory, chief operating officer of the engineering company Michael Baker Corp. in Beaver County and a former state transportation secretary.

• Jeff Zell, Pittsburgh engineer and environmental chemist.

• Richard Barcaskey, executive director of the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania.

The panel will meet for the first time Monday and is expected to issue recommendations by Aug. 1. The commission will accept public comments at tfac@state.pa.us.

A year ago, a separate Transportation Advisory Committee estimated a $3.5 billion gap in annual funding for highways, bridges and public transit.

That committee identified several potential funding sources, including user fees based on miles driven, additional tolls, public-private collaboration on transportation projects, loans, increased sales tax on cars and taxing the extraction of natural gas from Marcellus Shale.


Capitol Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: 717-787-2141 or tmauriello@post-gazette.com .


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