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Corbett transportation plan draws kudos, complaints

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 11:51 p.m.

Democratic legislators on Wednesday panned Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to boost funding for Pennsylvania's crumbling transportation system and said local business leaders aren't doing enough to draw attention to the problem.

But a Port Authority of Allegheny County executive said the financially challenged transit agency could stay afloat in the short term without more new funding — thanks partly to an annual $30 million funding boost it got last year from Corbett's administration.

“We could probably sustain service at current levels for the next two years,” Port Authority Assistant General Manager Michael Cetra said at a state House Democratic Policy Committee hearing in Station Square.

Cetra said the solid financial footing would be short-lived as the agency would face a $15 million operating deficit three years from now if transit funding doesn't grow.

“We'd be back in that death spiral” of service reductions and related job cuts, Cetra said. The agency cut service 15 percent in 2011 and narrowly avoided a 35 percent reduction last year, closing a $64 million deficit with the $30 million state boost it received in exchange for sweeping worker concessions and added local contributions.

Cetra and other local transportation leaders who testified detailed some of the region's most pressing infrastructure problems, including crumbling roads and bridges and diminished transit service.

Corbett's plan to generate up to $1.8 billion annually for transportation within five years could net Port Authority an extra $9 million in the first year and $56 million by the fifth, based on projections. The extra money could enable Port Authority to restore some lost service, Cetra said.

Democratic legislators said Corbett's plan falls short. They noted a Corbett-appointed commission in 2011 proposed ways to generate an added $2.7 billion annually for transportation — a plan they said they support. Even it falls short of meeting the state's needs, estimated at an extra $3.5 billion a year.

“I'd characterize it as a lack of leadership,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill.

Corbett spokeswoman Kelli Roberts said the governor wanted to “provide a plan that is reasonable and is balanced with what taxpayers can do,” noting he'd “work with legislators to come up with a plan that fully realizes our needs.”

Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, criticized business leaders.

“I don't understand why the business community isn't up in Harrisburg telling the governor we need more funding for transportation,” DeLuca said.

Allegheny Conference on Community Development Vice President Ken Zapinski said many executives are working both publicly and behind the scenes to persuade state leaders that more funding is needed.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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