Secretary LaHood, Senator Specter in Allentown
Yesterday at the America on Wheels museum in Allentown, Sen. Arlen Specter and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood participated in a roundtable discussion on transportation and the Lehigh Valley, part of a day-long statewide tour.
Local leaders described a number of regional priorities for transportation. Roadway access to the region’s urban core were a big part of these, especially the improvements to Hwy 412 (access to Bethlehem) and–perhaps even more crucially–the completion of the American Parkway project (access from Rt. 22 to downtown Allentown). Paul Marin, LANTA Board member and Chair of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation’s Transportation Committee, gave a brief presentation on the vision for Lehigh Valley passenger rail service that would link to the broader regional and national rail networks. On this latter point, Sen. Specter appeared very interested in the prospects of a rail network connecting communities across eastern Pennsylvania and beyond.
A few of the participants addressed the importance of finding funds to widen the most congested portion of Hwy. 22–the main road route through the Lehigh Valley–in some cases noting the recent (albeit long expected) news that PennDOT was taking the widening of Hwy. 22 off its list. As the Morning Call’s report on yesterday’s roundtable pointed out, Senator Spector and Sec. LaHood understood the calls for help in widening Hwy. 22, but did not promise any funds.
Also on the matter of regional priorities, Mayor Sal Panto of Easton indicated that he will have an announcement on a new $4.1 million intermodal transportation facility sometime in mid-September. He also affirmed Easton’s longstanding support for rail service for the Lehigh Valley. Support for regional rail was also offered by Mayor Callahan of Bethlehem and several other of those in attendance.
Not surprisingly, the predicament of our system for funding transportation–both federally and at the state level–was a topic that pervaded the roundtable. Speaking on behalf of the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Committee, Tom Jebran inquired as to when the federal government would have an answer on Pennsylvania’s application to toll I-80. Rep. Karen Beyer spoke in support of an increase in the state gas tax, though this is a proposal that–according to what I’ve heard repeated in numerous meetings–would face a huge uphill battle at either the state or federal level, at least in the near future. What she and others underscored, however, was the need to do more than just put band-aids on the current fiscal situation around transportation.
On the federal front, both Sen. Specter’s and Sec. LaHood’s remarks suggested that an 18-month extension of the current federal surface transportation bill was a given. This has been a–in fact, the–point of contention between the Administration and House Transportation & Infrastructure Chair Jim Oberstar. We’ll know more about Oberstar’s plans for pushing to get the authorization done sooner rather than later what his committee considers taking up his proposed bill–the Surface Transportation Authorization Act–next month.
Renew Lehigh Valley is serving as the regional point organization for the Transportation for America and Transportation for Pennsylvania coalitons, which are working on creating federal and state transportation policies that promote smart growth, livable communities, and a framework for sustainable transportation infrastructure. To get involved with RenewLV’s regional efforts on transportation advocacy, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Join Us page.