Act now on transportation funding in Harrisburg

Pennsylvania needs long-term financing to keep the state on the move

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Anyone watching Gov. Tom Corbett's press conference Wednesday could not have missed the message when he lifted a piece of concrete fallen from the Koppel Bridge -- a 98-year-old, 1,200-foot steel truss bridge that carries Route 351 over the Beaver River in Beaver County.

More than 4,000 of Pennsylvania's bridges are below standard. More than 9,000 miles of Pennsylvania's roads are in need of upgrades. The transportation system that holds this state together, that connects its people with their jobs and families and our industries with the North American market, is in desperate need of repair.

The safety and economic vitality of every part of the state, including the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County region, depends on an efficient transportation system. People need to get to their workplaces, schools and families. Manufacturers and other businesses depend on the same network of roads and bridges to get products to market.

The safe and efficient movement of people, goods and services is a core responsibility of government and Pennsylvanians deserve to be able to travel where they want, when they want and how they want.

Safe and reliable transportation isn't just a matter of personal convenience. It's about our livelihoods, global competitiveness and overall quality of life.

Gov. Corbett is working hard to deliver a common-sense transportation plan that will bring better roads and reliable public transportation to this region and the entire commonwealth.

Pennsylvania has a well-documented transportation funding dilemma that was decades in the making. In recent years, we've been directing infusions of cash into the system, but it has done little to meet expanding public demand or the needs of economic competition. It has not delivered the world-class system that Pennsylvanians expect and deserve.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly right now has an opportunity to pass legislation to provide a long-term funding stream to significantly improve Pennsylvania's transportation system. The governor will sign a comprehensive transportation plan. We need a multi-modal solution, similar to the one the governor proposed this year, to grow and enhance transportation for all Pennsylvanians.

A comprehensive plan would allow the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to advance a number of badly needed road and bridge projects, including $33 million in preservation work for the Birmingham Bridge in Pittsburgh. Putting a funding plan in place would allow that work to begin in 2014; doing nothing leaves the project in limbo. In 2008, the bridge had to be temporarily closed for emergency repairs.

Mass transit offers an important option for many Pittsburgh-area residents. According to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, 54 percent of people arriving in Downtown Pittsburgh each day do so using public transit, whether commuting to work, school or visiting for other reasons. Without a new funding plan, Port Authority of Allegheny County faces very tough decisions about the level of service it can sustain.

Through legislative action on a transportation plan we can help ease inflation because the cost of moving goods and services would improve. Businesses would not be forced to move their goods on detour routes necessitated by weight-restricted bridges.

Gov. Corbett is this week crisscrossing the state advocating action on a plan to address our transportation needs. It is critical that the Legislature acts now.

This is not a Republican issue, and it is not a Democratic issue. It's a Pennsylvania issue, and it's time to get this done in a bipartisan effort.

The governor has asked each Pennsylvanian who demands better transportation to contact lawmakers and tell them that they want better roads, bridges and public transportation -- we don't have a second to lose.

Barry J. Schoch is Pennsylvania secretary of transportation.

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