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State House approves bill to rework Port Authority board

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Monday, July 1, 2013, 7:24 p.m.
 

A day after the state House balked at passing a bill to boost transportation funding by $2 billion annually, it unanimously passed one Monday to restructure Port Authority's board of directors.

The Senate, in which the bill originated, could consider the amended legislation as early as Wednesday, said a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County.

Amendments made in the House would allow Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to appoint six of 11 members to the restructured board, up from previous versions. The county executive currently appoints all of a nine-member board.

The governor and legislative leaders from each of the four caucuses would appoint the remaining five members. Board members from the two caucuses in the party opposite of the county executive — currently, from the two Republican caucuses — would have authority to table votes on a range of significant matters, such as the hiring of a CEO.

“It's something that we can certainly live with. I've been saying there should be more state participation on the board, and it allows for minority members to have a voice,” Fitzgerald said.

Port Authority board member Constance Parker last week identified three candidates for the CEO job but said the search was ongoing.

“Someone could be hired next week if the board came to that conclusion. (The legislation wouldn't) take effect for 60 days. But whether it's the present board or a future board that makes a decision, there's going to have to be a consensus,” Fitzgerald said.

Officials across the state spent Monday trying to gauge the impact of legislators' inaction on a transportation funding bill. Gov. Tom Corbett said he hopes a deal can be reached later this year.

PennDOT officials began discussing plans to slap weight restrictions on 1,400 bridges across Pennsylvania, a spokesman said.

“I can't say when the restrictions will be in place. But it will be this calendar year if no action is taken” to increase funding, said PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar.

About 600 state-owned bridges already have weight restrictions. Without more money to make needed repairs, agency officials have said 1,400 more could be restricted, resulting in lengthy detours for some heavier vehicles — including school buses and tractor-trailers.

It remains unknown how PennDOT would live up to its obligation to provide Port Authority with up to $30 million a year in emergency funding. Corbett and PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch promised the boost last summer to help prevent job and service cuts at the agency in exchange for worker concessions and added local contributions.

Chizmar said PennDOT has $16.4 million to meet the $30 million obligation to Port Authority, along with a $4 million commitment to programs that help low-income residents get to work.

“Without a transportation bill, everything is at risk, so you don't know where things are going to go,” Fitzgerald said of Port Authority's $30 million agreement.

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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