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Corbett transportation plan awaited

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Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

CARROLL TOWNSHIP – When Gov. Tom Corbett reveals his transportation funding plan, likely later this month, it will affect the future of the Mon/Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway, Joe Kirk believes.

But that plan, which is expected to address potential solutions for transportation shortfalls, will only be the beginning of the debate for funding such needs, the Mon Valley Progress Council executive director said Friday.

The progress council's 2013 objectives – approved by the board of directors at its annual business meeting Friday – include maintaining “a regional leadership role on the Expressway and Southern Beltway to improve transportation access for local businesses and to promote economic growth.”

On Aug. 2, dedication ceremonies were held for phase II of the Uniontown-to-Brownsville expressway link. It marked 20 years of continuous construction on the expressway and completion of the limited-access highway from Route 51 in Large to Interstate 68 near Cheat Lake, W.Va.

Despite no plans this year for construction, Kirk said the progress council is continuing its efforts to advance the expressway.

“The governor will make some form of announcement this month, and that will formulate how we approach not only the expressway, but all transportation as it affects this area,” Kirk told the board of directors during the lunchtime session in the Anthony M. Lombardi Education Conference Center at Monongahela Valley Hospital.

That announcement will come nearly a year and a half after Corbett's Transportation Funding Advisory Council issued recommendations in August 2011 on raising the billions of dollars necessary to repair roads and bridges, as well as provide stable funding for transit agencies that face perennial funding crises.

The report estimated the state's unmet transportation funding needs would reach $7.5 billion in 10 years if a solution is not reached

The report recommended increasing vehicle and driver fees to keep up with inflation, dedicating 2 percent of the state sales tax to transportation funding, and increasing the oil company franchise tax, among other suggestions.

Kirk said he expects the governor to address uncapping the oil franchise tax.

The oil franchise tax is a portion of the state's gas tax applied to the first $1.25 of every gallon sold at the wholesale level. Uncapping it would permit a more significant portion of the wholesale price of gas to be taxed.

Kirk estimated that $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion in new funding must be identified annually to address transportation needs statewide.

“I believe the Legislature is going to be ready to engage the governor in a robust transportation plan,” Kirk said. “Uncapping the oil franchise tax could fund a significant portion of that deficit.”

The key to advancing the expressway and beltway projects could lie in whether state lawmakers dedicate a portion of new oil franchise revenue for the projects.

When the oil franchise fee was last uncapped in 1997, 5 percent of the new revenue was dedicated to the expressway and beltway project.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission utilizes that money to retire bonds floated to generate money for construction of portions of both projects.

While transportation is paramount, revitalization of the Valley continues to be at the heart of the progress council's objectives.

At the meeting, Kirk spoke of the council's leadership in the ongoing Mon Valley Intermunicipal Cooperative. To date, Allenport, Charleroi, Donora, Dunlevy, North Belle Vernon, Monongahela, Speers and Stockdale have joined the effort. In 2012, the progress council sponsored 11 sessions for municipal staff training.

The progress council also continues to promote the Mid Mon Valley Regional Enterprise Zone. The zone involves nine communities – Brownsville, Belle Vernon, California, Charleroi, Donora, Monongahela, Monessen, North Charleroi and Speers.

The program provides 25 percent tax credits on the value of improvements for up to five years on major capital programs.

Total state tax credits of $727,000 were secured for Brownsville Marine and Alumnisource in Monessen.

The organization's Workforce Readiness program brought 13 employers together Dec. 2 to discuss labor force challenges they face. In 2013, the progress council will formalize initiatives from what learned at those meetings, Kirk said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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