Transportation group urges Pa. Legislature to increase funding

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Transportation advocates sought Wednesday to increase pressure on the Legislature to deliver additional funding for roads, bridges and public transit, releasing a study that asserts that doing nothing will cost drivers more in the long run.

The report, by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research group, concluded that an inadequate transportation system costs the average Pittsburgh-area driver $1,418 per year in vehicle wear-and-tear, time wasted in traffic jams and crashes.

"It's much more effective economically to make adequate investment in transportation," said Frank Moretti, policy and research director of the organization, which is sponsored by road construction interests, labor groups and insurance companies.

Mr. Moretti was joined by other supporters of increased transportation funding at a news conference at Allegheny Station on the North Shore.

The Legislature is considering measures proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett and state Senate Transportation Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, that would raise the tax on gasoline wholesalers to provide additional funding for roads, bridges, transit and other transportation modes. Mr. Rafferty's bill also would increase vehicle fees, including those for licenses and registration, and fines for traffic violations.

The estimated cost of the proposals to a typical driver would be $130 to $150 per year.

Joe Kirk, executive director of the Mon Valley Progress Council, said if the Legislature doesn't act by the end of next month, before it goes into recess until fall, the issue will become frozen in electoral politics.

"Doing nothing is not a free option," said Ken Zapinski, senior vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a pro-business organization that has made transportation funding its top legislative priority. "Pennsylvania motorists, Pennsylvania businesses and Pennsylvania residents are paying for an inadequate transportation system. By not doing anything, we don't save money, we spend more money and waste more money."

The TRIP report noted that Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges. Nearly half of the roads in the Pittsburgh region are in poor or mediocre condition, Mr. Moretti said.

It cited a previous finding by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute that a typical driver here spends 39 hours per year stuck in traffic, wasting 18 gallons of gasoline.

Transportation currently provides 150,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state, a number that could increase by 50,000 if funding legislation is passed, said Rich Barcaskey, executive director of the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania, representing 200 highway contractors in the region.

Mr. Kirk said there have been no increases in transportation funding in the 15 years since the last time the Legislature raised the gasoline tax and vehicle fees. Inflation has eroded the value of those funding sources since then, he said.

"Why is our system failing? Quite simply, we have not invested in it," he said.

State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said in a statement later on Wednesday that the report underscored the problem of Pennsylvania's flat transportation revenue sources at a time of increasing demands.

"We simply cannot meet the challenges facing our transportation system without increasing investment into our aging roads, bridges and transit services," he said.

state - Transportation

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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