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Progress Council gets highway update

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Visiting state Rep. Rick Saccone in Harrisburg recently, Joe Kirk noticed a miniature of the Battle of Concord – including the North Bridge – that sits on the lawmaker's desk.

Sending a follow-up email to Saccone after their meeting, Kirk reminded the Elizabeth Township Republican, “That's not the only bridge we should be concerned about.”

The April 19, 1775, Battle of Concord – in Massachussets – was the American colonists' first victory over the British in the Revolutionary War.

These could be revolutionary times for transportation funding in Pennsylvania. State lawmakers are considering legislation that could significantly increase funding for roads, highways and bridges.

“For the expressway, this represents a monumental opportunity,” Kirk said Friday, shortly after updating Mon Valley Progress Council executive committee and board members on the status of transportation funding proposals.

The progress council executive director noted that Senate Bill 1 of 2013 –- introduced by state Sen. John Rafferty, who represents suburban Philadelphia, aims to raise the cap on the oil franchise tax, which is $1.25 of the price of a gallon of gas at the pump. The bill would more than double that amount.

The Rafferty bill phases in the increase over three years and would would increase transportation spending by roughly 60 percent.

A House proposal would phase in the increase over five years.

Kirk said a delegation of progress council leaders, along with members of the Mon Yough Chamber of Commerce, visited Harrisburg June 18 to advocate passage of a state transportation bill.

Kirk said he told Saccone that 12 bridges in his district would be funded under the new bill.

If new transportation funding is approved, major portions of the Mon/Fayette Expressway could be built in Saccone's district, Kirk said.

If the Republican lawmaker votes for the transportation funding, he would have the leverage to lobby turnpike officials for new revenue for expressway construction.

Kirk said one provision of Senate Bill 1 designates that 14 percent of money generated from an increase in oil franchise tax be allocated to Act 61 expansion projects.

“That really focuses on the Southern Beltway and expressway,” Kirk said.

The allocation designated for Act 61 projects would generate as much as $115 million, which would raise $1.2 billion when bonded.

“That's how important this is,” Kirk said. “This is monumental. If this passes, we're back in business for the Mon/Fayette Expressway and the Southern Beltway.”

Kirk predicted there is “a 75 percent chance” transportation funding will be approved and signed into law. Asked for a time frame, Kirk noted that the Legislature is scheduled to end its current session Sunday.

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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