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Corbett won't rush plan to increase transportation funding

Gov. Tom Corbett said on Friday he is in no rush to offer a long-term plan to increase transportation funding, despite calls to put more money right away toward Pennsylvania's crumbling infrastructure and strained transit systems.

"I don't have a deadline in mind of this year. This General Assembly ends in November 2012," Corbett said after delivering a speech Downtown at the eighth annual Waterways Symposium.

A Corbett-appointed advisory commission released a plan to the governor in August that it said would increase transportation funding up to $2.7 billion annually within five years. Corbett said he has been reviewing the commission's plan while evaluating alternatives. He did not identify the other options.

Corbett said he is concerned that now might not be the right time to implement one of the commission's key recommendations: increasing vehicle and driver fees to account for inflation since previous increases, a move that would generate an additional estimated $574 million annually within five years.

Corbett also said several other major legislative issues are being considered in Harrisburg, including ones related to Marcellus shale drilling and school vouchers.

"We're in a very difficult time," Corbett said.

Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre County, agreed, but said Pennsylvanians will pay more for transportation one way or another. That's why he said he will introduce his own transportation funding bill next week, resembling the advisory commission's report.

"If it's not fees, they'll pay through detours, closed roads and bridges, wear and tear on their vehicles, congestion," Corman, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said yesterday. "We're going to pay either way as citizens. It seems to make more sense to fix the problems."

Corman and other legislators have said it's also important to move funding legislation through this year for political reasons. Next year is an election year for most legislators, and any legislation including increases in driver fees could be unpopular.

"It will not be able to move without the governor, so it comes down to him being supportive," Corman said. "Still, I think it's important for the Legislature to tell the governor, 'Hey, this is important.' "

Corbett said he would review the bill when it's introduced.

Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky applauded Corman.

"We cannot afford to wait. The time to act is now," Yablonsky said.

Martin Pietrucha, director of the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Penn State University, agreed and called the state's transportation problems "dire."

Focusing on bridges, Pietrucha said Pennsylvania has roughly a third of the nation's more than 18,000 structurally deficient bridges. Among the 102 largest metro areas, Pittsburgh has the highest percentage of bridges in poor shape, a national report released this week showed.

"If this isn't a crisis, I don't know what is," Pietrucha said.

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