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Funding roads: Dubious equation

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Monday, July 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development say rural areas should be willing to fund urban mass transit because urban areas fund so much rural road work. But that notion is no fit basis for Pennsylvania transportation funding policy.

These mass-transit cheerleaders cite feet of state-funded roads per resident: 142 in Pennsylvania's five least populous counties, versus just 5 in the five most populous counties. But the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy calls this “a superficial evaluation.”

That's because PennDOT distributes road money based not just on miles, but on usage. Bearing two-thirds of daily vehicle miles traveled, having more interchanges, overpasses, bridges and tunnels, and carrying more heavier, road-damaging trucks, urban roads need more work more often — and more funding — than rural roads.

That “superficial evaluation” also ignores an important principle: “Those who benefit the most from a service should pay the most for it.” Rather than expecting state taxpayers to cover ever-greater state subsidies, communities should ask voters to approve broad-based local taxes to fund mass transit.

The Allegheny Institute says the Pittsburgh Chamber and Allegheny Conference need “a lot more research” to make “any claim of who is subsidizing whose roads” persuasive. So do state lawmakers who would base new transportation funding on their “superficial evaluation.”

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