News

Top stories of 2013: transportation funding

Written by Matt Paul, Reporter/Producer | Dec 27, 2013 3:06 AM
Road construction ahead sign

(Harrisburg) -- The upcoming spring construction season promises to be a busy one thanks to Pennsylvania's newly-enacted transportation funding law.

Transportation funding has been a priority issue at the state capitol for years. But no consensus emerged until late in 2013.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a $2.5 billion dollar plan in June. Transportation Chairman John Rafferty, a Montgomery County Republican, led the call to action.

"The worst thing we can do in Pennsylvania is do nothing," he asserted on the state Senate floor. "Then you're going to see more bridges closed, more bridged weight restricted. We're going to start losing more businesses."

PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch did start adding new weight restrictions on bridges in August, after the transportation funding plan stalled in the House.

BarrySchoch1.jpg

PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch

"At this point, unfortunately, my hands are tied," he said at a legislative hearing on the matter. "We don't have the revenue to take care of all of these bridges, so this is the consequence."

Pennsylvania is home to 6,500 structurally deficient bridges, the most of any state in the nation.

But, some House Republicans were wary of voting for increased motorist fees or gas taxes, and many House Democrats protested the prevailing wage changes that made their way into negotiations.

Both chambers ultimately signed off on a $2.3 billion dollar funding plan that's phased in over five years.

Jake Corman, a Centre County Republican and Senate Appropriations Chair, called it a compromise.

"Governing is getting what we can get passed, and all four caucuses were at the table, all four caucuses had priorities," he explained during Senate floor debate. "Some of it was less than mine, but nevertheless this is what gets the votes."

The bill eliminates the direct-to-consumer gas tax, while uncapping the wholesale tax on gasoline that oil companies pay. Vehicle and driver fees will increase, and an additional surcharge will be tacked onto certain moving violations.

But, supporters say the cost of inaction would have been much greater.

The new law also raises the prevailing wage threshold for certain public works projects to $100,000.

Governor Corbett hailed the bill's bipartisan passage -- a much-needed legislative win for his administration heading into an election year.

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