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witf introduces 'Smart Talk Friday' radio program

Radio Smart Talk: Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Apr 3, 2013 12:21 PM

Radio Smart Talk for Thursday, April 4:

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Pennsylvania's Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch will appear on Thursday's Radio Smart Talk to discuss the state's transportation needs. 

Let's face it -- the list is long.

For years, we've been told the state is heading toward a transportation infrastructure crisis.  Pennsylvania has more than four thousand structurally deficient bridges and miles of roadways that are crumbling.  The issue has always been there isn't enough money to fix the problem.

Past studies have shown about $2 billion is needed each year to upgrade, modernize, repair, or maintain the state's highways and keep other forms of transportation running.

The legislature enacted Act 44 several years ago to solve the funding crisis.  Tolls on Interstate 80 in northern Pennsylvania as well as annual contributions from the Pennsylvania Turnpike would generate revenue.  Instead, the federal government said tolls from I-80 couldn't be applied to anything other than maintaining that highway and the Turnpike has gone into debt to pay its share -- which was well short of what was needed.

Finally in February Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a plan that would result in $1.8 billion each year by lifting the cap on the state's oil company franchise tax.

That plan hasn't made it through the legislature and several lawmakers from both political parties have indicated they think the state requires more money than what the governor's proposal would bring in.

In fact, the Governor's Transportation Advisory Commission made recommendations in 2011 to raise $2.7 billion each year.

We'll discuss funding with Sec. Schoch as well as rail transportation and mass transit.

How should Pennsylvania pay for transportation infrastructure?

Pennsylvania's Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch.jpg

Pennsylvania's Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch

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Comments: 15

  • edstem09 img 2013-04-04 04:35

    Under Governor Rendell, the state gave a sales tax exemption to helicopters. They do not have to pay sales tax on sales, repairs, or parts. Then last year, the General Assembly exempted airplanes from the same sales taxes. Of course car and truck owners must still pay the 6% sales taxes on purchase, repairs and parts for their vehicles.

    Now we are to pay higher gas taxes and fees on our cars/trucks, in part, to fund airports under the Corbett plan. They should restore sales taxes helicopter and airplanes to provide funding for airports.

  • Caleb img 2013-04-04 07:40

    Roundabouts have been shown to be safer than signaled intersections according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as well as more efficient in terms of both traffic flow and fuel consumption. In addition, public opinion for roundabouts rises dramatically once they are in place because drivers realize these advantages. Could Secretary Schoch comment on why roundabouts are so rare in Pennsylvania while signaled intersections continue to pop up increasing congestion?

    • PennDOT img 2013-04-15 08:38

      PennDOT supports and encourages the implementation of roundabouts. We recently updated our design guidance to ensure that roundabouts are considered for all major intersection improvement projects. There are numerous factors that determine the viability of a roundabout at any location, including topography, environmental impacts and community input. Based on our increased emphasis on roundabouts, they will likely become more common in Pennsylvania in the coming years.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-04-04 08:16


    Email from Richard:

    There's a lot of attention on the cost of fixing this problem, but I wonder if you could elaborate on the cost of ignoring the problem. In my own case, when I commute through the Eisenhower Interchange in the typical stop-and-go rush hour traffic, I waste approximately three gallons of gas every week, costing about $10.

    • PennDOT img 2013-04-15 08:45

      Great question, Richard. There will be several negative impacts to our safety, quality of life and transportation options if we do nothing to address funding Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure. As you noted, congestion already costs motorists every day while they’re sitting in traffic or traveling on poor roadways. That will only continue to get worse as the number of poor roadways increase, more bridge weight restrictions and postings occur, and transit services possibly see disruptions or cuts. For example, in 2011 we had 9,200 poor roadway miles, which will increase to an estimated 16,000 in 2017 without additional investment. The costs of doing nothing are many, and we encourage you and other Pennsylvanians to review them under the Governor’s Transportation Plan at www.dot.state.pa.us.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-04-04 08:18

    Email from Pat, Campbelltown:

    Townships are responsible for maintaining thousands of miles of roadways. Many of these roads have increased traffic due to developments and motorists’ using them as short cuts.

    To pay for their roads they depend on local taxes and state revenue.

    Will these local governments and their residents benefit from increasing the liquid fuels tax?

    • PennDOT img 2013-04-15 08:49

      Thanks for the question, Pat. Local governments and their residents will see significant benefits from the Governor’s transportation plan. The plan is largely financed by a five-year phase out of an artificial and outdated cap on the tax paid by oil and gas companies on the wholesale price of gas.

      By the fifth year of the plan’s implementation, it is estimated to provide $250 million for public transit, $200 million for locally owned roads and bridges; and $80 million for improvements to bicycle and pedestrian facilities, ports, airports and railways.

      The governor also proposes increased partnership and efficiencies with local governments including:
      • A bridge bundling and management program to significantly reduce local cost share by as much as 100 percent.
      • A partnership with PennDOT in the management of traffic signals to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion. A similar program will be offered for maintenance agreements on bridges.
      • Creating a pool of matching funds for private or local improvements to a non-state road if the improvement benefits the state system.

      You can review the details of the plan on our website, www.dot.state.pa.us.

  • Bob Nunn img 2013-04-04 08:19

    How much does the state pay each year for construction inspectors that have to tavel to construction sites and attempt to make sure that the contractor is using the grade of material specified.

    Given that it's a cat and mouse game, does it really save the tax payer money to use private contractors for road repair and construction.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-04-04 08:31

    Email from Kevin:

    How about we pay by weight? My 2 ton truck does so much less damage to roads and bridges compared to a loaded trailer, yet they only pay twice as much in fees, gas taxes?

    • PennDOT img 2013-04-15 09:22

      Thank you for your inquiry. As a truck vehicle owner, you likely know that registration fees collected are based the Registered Gross or Combination Weight in Pounds. The body type, such as truck, appears on the Manufacturer Statement of Origin and it is this information that is used as part of the initial title and registration of the vehicle. You may be interested to know that Pennsylvania law requires vehicles to be registered according to the use for which the vehicles have been designed. The Vehicle Code defines a passenger car as a motor vehicle designed primarily for the transportation of persons (no more than 15 persons including the driver). The Vehicle Code defines a truck as a motor vehicle primarily designed for the transportation of property. The annual registration fees for passenger cars are legislated and can be found under Section 1912 of the Vehicle Code (shall be $36.00). Trucks and truck tractor fees are found in the Vehicle Code under Section 1916. For the fees, please see the following link: http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/vehicle_code/chapter19.pdf. Any changes to these requirements would be made through legislation changes, about which you may contact your local lawmaker.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-04-04 08:32

    Email from Listener:
    Higher registration for these heavy SUVs,increased tax on these aggressive tread tires and over sized rims,impact fees for new development for the increased strain on the obviously worn roads,impact fees for excessive business use Especialy agriculture.
    And increased fuel taxes,that of course would be adjusted.
    But I have heard that there are billions in transportation funds hung up through red tape.

    • PennDOT img 2013-04-15 09:08

      Thank you for sharing your feedback. You mentioned SUVs in your comment and we wanted to share information with you on how registration fees are collected on vehicles in Pennsylvania, including SUVs. Pennsylvania law defines a passenger car as a motor vehicle designed primarily for the transportation of persons (no more than 15 persons including the driver). The Vehicle Code defines a truck as a motor vehicle primarily used for the transportation of property. The annual registration fees for passenger cars are legislated (shall be $36.00). Trucks and truck tractor fees are also legislated and are based on Registered Gross or Combination Weight in Pounds. Body type, such as truck, appears on the Manufacturer Statement of Origin; this information is used as part of the initial title and registration of the vehicle. SUVs are not registered by weight like trucks and are registered as passenger cars. However, a multi-purpose vehicle such as an SUV can be titled as a truck if the vehicle is being used primarily for hauling material. Any changes to these requirements would be made through legislation changes, for which you may contact your local lawmaker.

  • Lisa img 2013-04-04 08:33

    Definitely agree about reducing unnecessary signs. I have noticed that certain highways now have mileage markers every TENTH of a mile. There is no way that it is necessary to mark every tenth of a mile along a several hundred mile highway. Why is this being done? Also agree that mowing should be drastically reduced. While high grasses along the very edge of a road might be a safety hazard, it certainly isn't when it is 10-100 ft. off of the highway. Why such wide swaths mowed? Other states allow wildflowers and other plantings to grow. Looks better and prevents alien invasive plants like ailanthus from taking over if you allow the native plants to maintain their hold.

    • PennDOT img 2013-04-15 08:53

      The signs that you are referring to are Intermediate Reference Markers (IRM). In cooperation with county 911 agencies, we install these markers as part of a regional incident management program to help emergency responders quickly pin point incident locations. Once installed along interstates or limited access highways at fixed intervals, these signs give motorists an easily recognizable point of reference. This interval varies from one-tenth to two-tenths of a mile depending on traffic volume and whether the highway is in a rural or urban area. These signs have been installed at selected locations in Pennsylvania, as well as the rest of the country, and have proven to be an effective tool for incident management.

      The decision to install the signs is made at the local level based on an assessment of incident management needs. There are no plans to mandate the installation of these throughout the state’s highway system.

      Regarding your question on mowing, this operation is performed to enhance sight distance and safety, as well as aid drainage and prevent the spread of noxious weeds. The main reason for mowing beyond 10 feet is to prevent the establishment of woody vegetation. This type of mowing is only needed once a year, typically in the fall. Other important reasons are to control the spread of noxious (regulated) weeds from spreading to adjacent landowners and in some cases, sight distance concerns. Noxious weeds are mowed before the flowers turn to seed and sight distance concerns develop during unusual weather patterns like mild winters or extended periods of rain during the growing season. We cooperate with the state Department of Agriculture to prevent the spread of noxious weeds.

  • Robert Colgan img 2013-04-04 08:46

    This is a little off-the-wall . . .but if PA had a singlepayer healthcare system----in which the entire population of PA paid into a centralized bloc system and the State contracted with and purchased both medical services and pharmaceuticals as a large group to obtain the best prices for both-----the people of PA could save billions over what they are currently paying for healthcare.

    Some of those savings could be deferred to support the infrastructure which Secretary Schoch accurately describes as the common property owned by all PA citizens.

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