Funding Challenges for Pennsylvania’s Transportation Needs
Over the weekend, The Morning Call ran a story that examined the funding issues hovering over Pennsylvania’s transportation system. Since the Federal Highway Administration denied a request to add tolls to Interstate 80 in 2008, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has been reviewing options for generating revenue, as mandated by Act 44, a transportation funding law approved by the state Legislature in 2007. Under Act 44, an estimated $930 million was supposed to be paid yearly to PennDOT by the Turnpike Commission. Unfortunately, given the Federal denial, this number will be whittled down to just $450 million. But the Commission is not giving up yet.
Latest reports state that turnpike officials are reapplying for federal approval after meeting with representatives from the state Department of Transportation and the Highway Administration. The application was denied approval because it did not ensure that the money collected on I-80 would be used to directly improve that highway – a necessary requirement for tolling. The Commission will address these issues before resubmitting the application for approval.
While a new application might pass approval, it will not be the last hurdle for turnpike officials. The tolling plan has been opposed by most residents living along I-80, which has pushed some members of the state legislature to rally against the proposal. Furthermore, the plan never gained the full approval of the Governor, who preferred a public-private partnership (P3) that would lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike – an option that was rejected by the state legislators, mainly on the House side. But the P3 plan is not dead yet. Recently, a bill was introduced into the State Senate that would authorize public-private partnerships to pay for road and bridge work. It is unclear what the future holds for this legislation, but it is important to point out that the only aspect of transportation under consideration here is bridge and road funding.
The other side of the coin involves the funding shortfalls for public transportation, an issue that is rarely addressed. As shown in the above chart, the Turnpike payment in Act 44 allocates over 40% of the money to public transportation, and short of hiking fares, it remains to be seen how public transit will weather the financial shortfalls.
The Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee has put together an informative presentation about Act 44 on its website, and I invite you to flip through it. As always, keep checking this blog for more information about transportation on the national and state levels.