Pennsylvania lawmakers attempt to head off transportation funding problems |
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Nicole C. Brambila

A state lawmaker announced Wednesday that she will lead an effort to address Pennsylvania’s looming transportation crisis and the possible $50 million annual revenue loss for the next three decades.

Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee Chair Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, said during a news conference at the Capitol that the funding challenges threaten public transportation. She specifically mentioned the pending litigation against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

“These risks are creating uncertainty for managing highways, bridges, and public transportation in this commonwealth,” Ward said Wednesday in Harrisburg.

Ward added, “I accept these risks as a call to action. Together, we can craft legislation to help our interconnected system of highways, bridges, and public transportation.”

Act 44 requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission transfer $450 million annually through 2022 and $50 million annually through 2057 to support public transportation.

Also dependent on the Motor License Fund is the state police, which saw its funding increase 118 percent from July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2017 .

Ward announced the formation of a working group that will evaluate other funding options and propose draft legislation to end the Turnpike’s payments to PennDOT.

A brief released this year by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy blamed 10 years of turnpike increases on the 2007 legislation that created the annual transfers now in litigation. Act 44 of 2007 was the result of then-Gov. Ed Rendell’s failed attempt to lease the turnpike to fund the state’s transportation system.

This month, PennDOT released its first performance report on efforts to address funding, mobility and safety on the state’s roadways, giving itself marginal to getting-better marks on more than two dozen categories that included the number and type of roadway fatalities; highway capacity and congestion.

Once an alternative funding mechanism is identified, Ward said she will form another legislative working group to speed up the provisions of the 2016 Fiscal Code, which capped the transfers to the state police and gradually reduces it by 4 percent until June 30, 2028.

Nolan Ritchie, executive director of Pennsylvania’s Senate Transportation Committee, told the Tribune-Review that the working group will explore “a variety of ideas floating around.” But he stopped short on elaborating how the additional funds would be raised.

“We’re going to look at other states and how projects are funded for mass transit,” Ritchie said.

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