State struggles to find transportation solution
Gov. Tom Corbett and Rep. Mike Turzai talk after a ceremony to mark the completion of construction work on Route 19 in McCandless on Monday.
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Faced with critical needs in Pennsylvania's transportation networks, the Republicans controlling both legislative chambers are divided on whether to uncouple the issues of infrastructure and mass transit.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, has said he is considering all recommendations of an advisory commission that issued a report in August 2011 about how to fund improvements to the state's roads, bridges and mass transit.
During an appearance Monday in McCandless, the governor said he expects to lay out a proposal when the new Legislature begins work in mid-January.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said in an interview at the event that his members want to address transportation infrastructure and separately deal with public transit systems.
"We want it focused on roads and bridges," he said. "So many reforms have to be brought to mass transit that it needs to be disentangled. They need to be separate pieces."
House Republicans want to bring checks and balances to spending on mass transportation, said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for the caucus.
But Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said he believed legislation addressing only one component of transportation would have an uncertain path through the chamber.
"Our read of the Senate is that it will be very difficult to move funding for one part of that -- either roads and bridges or mass transit -- without the other part," Mr. Arneson said. "But whether that is one bill or two bills or three bills, we're not concerned about that as much as we are the timing."
He said he believed the Senate could pass separate bills if they were moved together.
Asked about disconnecting the components of a transportation plan, Steve Chizmar, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said Mr. Corbett has kept his options open.
"At this point the governor said that everything is on the table," Mr. Chizmar said. "He's really dedicated to finding a long-term solution that's going to move through the Legislature."
Democrats, meanwhile, denounced the idea of extracting mass transit from a funding plan. Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, said that while funding plans could be presented in separate bills, lawmakers from cities would not support legislation aimed at roads and bridges without an accompanying proposal for the transit systems serving their communities.
"There's literally no possibility of doing one without the other," he said. "You will have urban legislators who will not support a road-and-bridge infrastructure bill unless there is a transit bill that is in tandem and that is adequate."
And Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said removing mass transit from the transportation funding proposals would yield a stalemate.
"We don't need a piecemeal solution to the transportation issue," Mr. Costa said in an email. "We need a comprehensive approach that addresses roads, bridges, mass transit, inter-modal and other features."
First Published December 4, 2012 12:00 am