PennDot chief warns of costs of no funding increase

Posted: July 03, 2013

About 12,000 jobs will be lost and an additional 50,000 jobs won't be created because of the legislature's failure to increase transportation funding, Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said Monday.

In addition, 1,200 bridges will be weight-restricted, sending trucks and tractors on costly detours, while deteriorating highways will mean more time in traffic and higher repair bills for motorists, Schoch said.

And public transportation systems, such as SEPTA, eventually can expect service cuts or higher fares.

Faced with Gov. Corbett's proposal for $1.8 billion in additional funding, a $2.5 billion bill approved by the state Senate, or a $2 billion plan offered by House Republican leaders, state lawmakers picked none of the above.

Amid wrangling over how much to provide for public transit, how much to increase gas taxes and motorist fees, and linking transportation to efforts to privatize the state liquor business, lawmakers couldn't come to agreement Sunday.

Harrisburg's inaction means the issue will be pushed back at least until the fall, when lawmakers will return from their summer recess. Corbett said he will continue to press lawmakers to pass a funding plan, although some legislators said they might have missed the best opportunity.

"If it's not done this fall, it will be years," Schoch said. "And that's just mind-boggling."

Schoch said Monday the current construction season is now lost. Highway-construction contracts will total about $1.6 billion, compared with $2 billion last year, he said.

The cuts will mean the loss of about 12,000 jobs, he said.

About 50,000 additional jobs could have been created by planned road-building projects in the next 10 years, he said.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) engineers and planners now are starting to determine when to place weight limits on about 1,200 bridges, since planned repairs can't be made without additional money. The public will get warning on which bridges will be restricted, "but without question, it's coming this calendar year," Schoch said.

Corbett and legislative leaders had proposed paying for the transportation increases with hikes in various taxes and fees, most notably the wholesale tax on gasoline. If the elimination of that cap on the oil-franchise tax was fully passed on to motorists at the pump, it could mean a gas-tax increase of about 28 cents per gallon over five years.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), a leading opponent of the transportation-funding measures, said: "Tax and fee increases are the wrong answer to funding roads and bridges." And he objected to proposed increases for SEPTA and other agencies as "more money thrown down the black hole of mass transit."

Schoch said the average motorist, who drives 12,000 miles a year, would pay $2 more per week under the Corbett plan or the House Republican plan and $2.50 more per week under the Senate plan.

Many drivers already are spending more than that on gas wasted sitting in traffic, Schoch said.

SEPTA riders, who saw fares rise Monday, could face service cuts or more fare increases as the transit agency tries to close a $38 million budget gap, if additional state funding is not forthcoming.

The SEPTA board last week approved just a one-month budget for the agency, hoping state lawmakers would come to the rescue for the rest of the fiscal year that began Monday.

SEPTA spokeswoman Jerria Williams said Monday: "We are optimistic that in the fall the General Assembly will enact a comprehensive transportation funding package.

"Riders should know that in the short term, the lack of a transportation funding bill will not impact service."

But a continuing lack of money to provide "critical investment into our aging infrastructure ... will affect the reliability and quality of transportation in the region," Williams said.

Schoch, who had been campaigning around the state for months for more transportation funding, was somber Monday.

"It's the same old problem this agency has been facing for a long time," he said, citing similar problems faced by his predecessors at PennDot. "Now I'll be making the most severe cuts of all."


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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