Blog Archives

New Legislative Plan to Deal with Transportation Funding Crisis

State legislators, the governor, and anyone else interested in the tolling of I-80, regardless of whether or not they supported the plan, could agree on one thing: If the application was rejected, Pennsylvania would face a serious transportation funding crisis. The application was rejected, and State Representative Rick Geist, Republican Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, stepped up with a new plan to address the issue.

Geist’s plan includes the reallocation of certain tax revenue, public-private partnerships, reapplying for federal authorization to toll I-95, adjusting the PTC/PennDOT lease terms, and a number of other methods that would potentially fill the funding gap.

Another proposed method is to increase the local match required to receive state transit dollars. This means that localities would be asked to pay more towards mass transit before being eligible for state funds. Currently, Pennsylvania requires a 13% match, and Geist’s plan proposes that the number to be increased to 25%. He contends that Pennsylvania is well below the national average in terms of its requirement for a local match and that an increase to 25% would not be unreasonable.

Check out the press release that provides an overview of the proposed plan. How might this option succeed in filling the transportation funding gap? What are some of the implications of this plan?

Should it concern us that part of this plan–applying for authorization to toll I-95 and extending the PTC/PennDOT lease terms– continues the practice of borrowing money against future toll revenue that may or may not ever exist?

Are there other alternatives that need to be a part of this discussion? Please share your feedback as this is just the first of what could be many plans to address this crisis.

Tune in to 88.1FM WDIY Tonight @ 6

Tonight on WDIY, Alan Jennings will host a segment on transportation and land use in the Lehigh Valley. The one-hour segment, airing from 6-7pm, will include four guests who will speak about the links between transportation and land use, and the importance of this linkage to the Lehigh Valley. Further, they will discuss how the Lehigh Valley can move forward on a multimodal approach to transportation that is both environmentally and economically sustainable– encouraging development while preserving the regional assets that make the Lehigh Valley unique.

From 6-6:30pm Jennings will host Representative Bob Freeman and PennDOT’s District 5 Press Officer, Ron Young. For the second half of the show, from 6:30-7pm, we will hear from Deana Zosky, co-chair of RenewLV’s Board of Directors, and Steve Schmitt, Executive Director of the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation.

Be sure to tune in to 88.1 FM WDIY tonight at 6! This segment will address many of the issues and questions that will be the focus at the Regional Transportation Forum on April 19th, 6:30-8:30 pm, at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem. Find out more about the event at our event page, and sign up online!

Happy Hope for High Speed Rail

The White House announced details of the funding for high speed rail development and passenger rail improvements today.  This is a happy step forward, although I can’t help but feel a little sad that the Lehigh Valley is not included in this first step.

More information can be found here and a nice analysis from the Transport Politic blog is available here.

Will 2010 Be the Year of Transportation Reform?

Rep. Jim Oberstar hopes so. And US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expects it to be the case.

The Hill reported last week that Rep. Oberstar is pressing President Obama to back his transportation funding bill, though the White House has yet to take an official position on said bill. Thus far, the bill is encountering the same block that it came up against in 2009 – uncertainty over the funding stream. The last bills were funded by the Federal Highway Trust (FHT) Fund, which is running the risk of running low in upcoming years, as more Americans are cutting back on driving (revenue from the gas tax goes to the FHT Fund).

Providing the administration’s stance, Sec. LaHood stated that the White House would like to see a comprehensive transportation bill passed by the end of 2010, but admitted that the costs of such a bill are a significant worry. Nevertheless, the administration will continue working with Congress in the upcoming months, with the hope of arriving at some sort of solution to the funding problem.

What are your suggestions for where the funding should come from?

Tolling I-80 Still Debated

Though controversial, the proposal for initiating a tolling system on Pennsylvania’s I-80 is still being reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration, and, because of this, it is still being discussed and debated. The Reading Eagle put out a story last week describing how the interstate would be tolled. The tolling of I-80 is part of the plan to raise revenue for Act 44, Pennsylvania’s transportation legislation that was signed into law by Governor Rendell in June of 2007.  The application was resubmitted earlier this year, after it was initially rejected . Rumor has it that the decision regarding the application should be made public by the end of December, though no details regarding that decision have been confirmed.

US Representative Glenn Thompson has been one of the key leaders in opposing this proposal, stating that tolling the highway “will greatly compromise the lifeline of commerce here in Pennsylvania.” Additionally, many state legislators are opposing the possible measure, arguing that the increased financial burden would harm their constituents during already tough economic times.

But sustainable transportation advocates are firmly supporting this proposal. Many cite the funding inequities that come along with driving (the fact that government funds subsidize most roads and fuel). Peter Javsicas of PenTrans writes this in his November Philadelphia Inquirer editorial:

Why toll I-80? Because driving in Pennsylvania is too cheap. Taxes and fees don’t cover the real costs of roads and fuel, which are heavily subsidized. Take away the subsidies and many people would have to cut back on driving or give it up. Take away the subsidies, and the costs of goods and services delivered by trucks would increase dramatically.

One thing remains certain: there is a significant funding gap within Act 44 without the toll money. Without the I-80 toll money, the revenue generated will come to $450 million annually, which is less than one-fourth of the needed $1.7 billion.

Do you support the tolling of I-80? If the proposal is rejected, what steps should the Commonwealth take to close the funding gap?

Gov. Rendell Discusses National Infrastructure Bank

The Infrastructurist interviewed our very own Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell on his thoughts about the future of America’s infrastructure funding. The Governor discussed his views for creating a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) that would finance merit-based infrastructure projects ranging from transportation to water, schools, and levies. His comments clear up some misconceptions about the role that the NIB would have in infrastructure funding (no, it wouldn’t fund all projects), the sources of the funding (both public and private), and the possibility of implementing a high-speed rail system across the nation (and its connection to air traffic control).

Post your comments and thoughts on the interview below.

T4PA Report Back from One-Day HSR Summit

Transportation for Pennsylvania’s blog yesterday featured a report back from Monday’s summit in Washington, D.C., entitled Rebuilding the Corridors of Prosperity: High Speed Rail and Transportation Investment in the Northeast and Midwest. The summit was put on by the Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition, in coordination with the Northeast Midwest Institute, 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, and Smart Growth America. The purpose of the meeting was to bring high-speed rail advocates together from the Northeast and Midwest states as a means of determining which steps will have to be taken to bring rail into these areas (as part of an interconnected network). Here is an excerpt from the T4PA blog:

Judy Schwank, President of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania described why this effort is important for Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania has the important and strategic distinction of straddling two mega-regions, the Northeast and the Great Lakes. Linking to these markets is a critical component for the state’s economic prosperity. Investment in rail systems, both passenger and freight, has been and will be important to the cities and towns of Pennsylvania. As we determine the next federal transportation authorization we need to ensure that investments support communities and integrate with existing networks.”

Karen Rae, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Rail Administration, and Roy Kienitz, Under Secretary for Policy at the US Department of Transportation, talked about the role of rail to create more transportation alternatives across the country.

“There needs to be an intersection between rail planning and activities occurring on the ground. Having city to city connections will drive ridership,” Karen Rae added. She emphasized that creating an integrated high speed rail system is a challenging project; however, a step by step approach is needed to build the will and momentum to make it a reality.

To continue the momentum of the event, 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania plans to identify and convene key leaders in critical transportation corridors within Pennsylvania that connect the Great Lakes and the Northeast. The organization will continue to educate and build awareness and support for advancing a federal transportation reauthorization that links regions and builds better communities.

To read more about this effort, visit the T4PA blog, and check out the Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition website.

What are your thoughts on channeling rail development into these states? How should the government (or any other decision-making body) prioritize which corridors should be first in line for receiving funding for high-speed rail development?

Continuing the National Transportation Debate

Directly related to yesterday’s Crossroads post about the proposed Surface Transportation Authorization Act (STAA), The Minnesota Star-Tribune published an editorial that addresses the core of the disagreement between Rep. Jim Oberstar, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Obama Administration regarding the authorization of the bill.  Not surprisingly, the reason cited for the tension was lack of funding. Current federal transportation funding relies heavily on the Highway Trust Fund, which comes from gas tax revenue. The fund is in danger of running dry, because gas prices and climate concerns have translated into less driving and the purchasing of fuel-efficient vehicles. Chairman Oberstar has attached a $450 billion figure to the new bill – surely, a hefty sum, but one that accurately represents the challenges that lay ahead with bringing the nation’s transportation system up to date. Two possible solutions for increasing funding – a gas tax raise and the imposition of a vehicle miles tax – have been viewed unfavorably by both the White House and the general public. Given such roadblocks (no pun intended), any movement towards a resolution has stalled, at least for now. It remains to be seen how this debate will culminate.

E-mail us your thoughts on this debate and the worries over funding  at smartgrowth@renewlv.org.

Impressions from LANTA meeting

After attending last night’s “Moving LANTA Forward” meeting at the Bethlehem Town Rotunda, I came away with a better understanding of the upcoming plans for the planned expansion of the current transportation system in the Lehigh Valley. As mentioned in previous post advertising the meetings, LANTA initated a system-wide analysis as a means of assessing the transportation needs of the Valley. The results of this analysis have now been made public and presented at daily meetings during this week.

The LANTA plan calls for a twelve-year, four-phase expansion of the current system. The first two phases focus on expansion of service in the core urban areas, including late-night and weekend service in the busy trunk corridors of the cities, as well as increased services into the outer suburban ring. The final phases call for an implementation of Bus Rapid Transit and the option of examining rail service potentials.

One salient feature of the presentation was the focus on the intricate connection between transportation planning and land use ordinances. Growth and development in the Lehigh Valley will continue to influence municipal decisions, and it will be important for municipalities to examine aspects of land use as a means of facilitating transit expansion. On the “Moving LANTA Forward” blog, a useful Land Use Design Toolkit, along with the consultants’ presentation, is posted. At a base level, LANTA hopes to reach cooperation with local communities in order to increase transit services and improve the current system.

Finally, kudos to all of you who came out to one of the meetings. The public input during the Q&A sessions will help LANTA in the expansion and will help them better asses the transportation needs of the Lehigh Valley.

To keep up on all the latest details about LANTA, make sure to continue checking their blog, the LANTA website, and, as always, this blog.

Watch it here: Steven Bliss on Tempo PublicSquare

If you missed the Regional Rail episode of Tempo PublicSquare this past weekend, don’t fret. Watch it here, or go visit Tempo Signature Series and click on Train Service in the Lehigh Valley.

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