Officials call on state to pass transportation bill

Lester Toaso of PennDot points out crumbling concrete and wooden blocks installed to support a deteriorating bridge on Sellersville's North Main Street.
Lester Toaso of PennDot points out crumbling concrete and wooden blocks installed to support a deteriorating bridge on Sellersville's North Main Street. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 09, 2013

SELLERSVILLE Pointing to the crumbling concrete and rusting steel of two bridges within walking distance in Sellersville on Thursday, a band of local and state officials renewed calls for Harrisburg to finally agree on a $2 billion-plus transportation spending bill.

At the same time, legislators said they had come closer to a solution during their most recent break, hoping to settle their months-long dispute - which has involved mass-transit funding and workers' wages on state-funded projects - by the end of the year. The General Assembly reconvenes next week.

At a news conference in Bucks County, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials warned that towns across the region will soon have nearly 100 state-owned bridges with weight restrictions. Some will bar cement trucks, semis, and other vehicles of commerce - not to mention some fire engines.

"This is not just a matter of personal convenience. It's about safety, our livelihoods, economic competitiveness, and our quality of life," Bradley Mallory, PennDot executive deputy secretary, said at a firehouse in the upper Bucks County borough. He was flanked by officials from Sellersville and the county, among others.

Mallory's boss, PennDot Secretary Barry J. Schoch, was supposed to be there but had been summoned to Harrisburg to discuss the bill with lawmakers.

Les Toaso, PennDot's District Six executive, led reporters on a tour of some of Sellersville's dilapidated bridges. Some of the steel bearings on one, built in 1927, were rusted out, requiring a 15-ton weight limit. The average loaded school bus weighs 17 tons.

Gov. Corbett has been pushing the legislature to pass a bill to boost much-needed transportation funding, a big talking point in the Republican's reelection campaign, which kicked off this week.

In June, the state Senate overwhelmingly approved a $2.5 billion bill to help repair thousands of aging bridges and miles of roads while pumping more money into transit. The bill would increase driver's license and vehicle-registration fees and put a hefty surcharge on speeders and other traffic-law violators.

But House members have had trouble finding common ground, particularly over the issue of how much workers on state transportation projects will be paid. Republicans have contended those wages, which are set by the state, are too high and want to change the rules on which projects should require them.

Bill Patton, spokesman for the House Democratic caucus, said the prevailing-wage issue remained a hurdle. But he said lawmakers' staffs had been meeting almost every day to find a solution.

Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), said leaders of the legislature's four caucuses made "good progress" at a meeting Wednesday, although he declined to discuss specifics.

"We're certainly in a better position now than we were before the beginning of that meeting," he said.


bfinley@phillynews.com

610-313-8118

@Ben_Finley

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