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Pennsylvania

State in line for $4 billion highway boost

| Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pennsylvania would be a big winner under a congressional transportation spending proposal with bipartisan backing to be released in January after a new president takes office.

The state would receive an extra $4 billion for highway and transit projects starting in late 2009, U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said Friday during a visit to Pittsburgh.

The plan would authorize between $450 billion and $500 billion in spending over six years for all states, he said.

Pennsylvania's share would increase from $8.3 billion under the current budget to about $12 billion, said Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat.

"That would be a welcome addition to help pay for our construction needs," said PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick.

U.S. Rep. John Mica of Florida, the committee's ranking Republican, supports the proposal. The bill, which is being drafted, would face a Senate version before being considered by the next president.

"I think right now, generally speaking, John Mica is on the same page," said Justin Harclerode, a Republican spokesman on transportation matters. "Mr. Mica will be very interested in exploring creative financing -- different ways to take advantage of the private investment potential out there."

Oberstar would not say how much of a gasoline tax hike he proposes to pay for the increased spending on roads, bridges and mass transit. The 18.4-cent federal tax last was increased by 4.3 cents in 1993.

"What that amount will be, we'll determine next year," he said.

The funding plan -- called the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, or SAFETEA-LU -- approved $286 billion in transportation spending through late 2009.

The increase Oberstar seeks would not pay for extra road and bridge projects, said U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, a member of the transportation committee.

"That number is just to maintain our current level of infrastructure," Altmire said.

Federal money is crucial to state and local road programs. Many road projects managed by PennDOT, Allegheny County and municipalities receive up to 80 percent of their money from the federal government. Among them are the recent Homestead Grays Bridge rehabilitation and the upcoming $47 million rehabilitation of the Rankin Bridge.

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