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Saccone defends bridge-repair funding proposal

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 1:06 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A common site throughout Washington County and other parts of Western Pennsylvania, an active gas drilling site sits on a small hillside surrounded by homes.
Joe Appel | Tribune-Review
The 120-feet tall derrick drives the drill boring a 9,000-feet hole for a gas well in the Marcellus Shale region in Hopewell Twp., Washington County, on Wednesday, May 27, 2009.

State Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, defended the bill he's proposing to fund bridge repairs with revenue from state forest gas leases.

“If these bridges are structurally deficient, we need to deal with this right now,” Saccone said on Friday.

His House Bill 1681 has “nine or 10 co-sponsors” and he said he anticipates more before the General Assembly reconvenes on Sept. 23.

Saccone said leasing would raise $1.05 billion, or about twice what would be needed to restore the state's bridges.

He said the fund would be augmented by royalty fees of 16 percent of the marketable gas from wells on forest lands.

On Thursday, state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, listed Saccone's proposal among alternatives to consider while pressing for House passage of the omnibus Senate Bill 1.

But two state House members who joined Brewster on a tour of the W.D. Mansfield Memorial Bridge criticized Saccone's proposal.

“He voted against drilling and now he is for it?” asked Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg.

Saccone said Kortz may be referring to his vote against Act 13, which regulates gas drilling, establishes an impact fee assessed from drillers and restricts municipal zoning.

“I voted against Act 13 because of the zoning,” Saccone said. “All of the municipalities that I represent thought it was unconstitutional.”

Commonwealth Court struck down the zoning restrictions but the Supreme Court has taken no action since arguments in October.

“(Some of) the acreage he referenced isn't even in the Marcellus shale,” state Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, said.

“It is a false conclusion,” Saccone said. “I only asked that 300,000 of the remaining 800,000 acres be opened. It is up to the (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) to specify which.”

Saccone reiterated his opinion that PennDOT did not need to post weight limitations on the Elizabeth Bridge.

“All they're talking about is extending the life of these bridges,” Saccone said. “Does that really have to be done right now?”

The three disagree over linking mass transit to bridges.

“The people of Pennsylvania are not in favor of putting much more money in mass transit and to couple it to bridges, even people here in my district don't want it,” Saccone said. “We need to look at a different way of funding mass transit and what form of mass transit do we want to take us into the future.”

“We need the bus service,” Kortz said, referring to his and Gergely's work to restore a run from Century Square in West Mifflin to the North Versailles Township Walmart.

The 55 Glassport run is a restoration of service cut while Stephen G. Bland was Port Authority's CEO.

“Steve Bland wasn't backing off,” Kortz said. “Now that he was terminated we were able to do it, with the help of (Port Authority senior government relations director) Dan DeBone and Sen. Brewster.”

There was bipartisan expressions of grief on Friday with news of the death of House Transportation Chairman Dick Hess, R-Bedford County.

“He was a good man,” said Kortz, who served with Hess on the Transportation Committee. “He wanted to get transportation done.”

Gov. Tom Corbett ordered all state flags lowered to half-staff until the day of Hess' funeral.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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