Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition Supports Long-Term Fix

May 26, 2010, 17:04 ET from Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition

HARRISBURG, Pa., May 26 /PRNewswire/ --  A statewide coalition of drivers, truckers, flyers, graders, walkers, pavers, cyclists, tourists, commuters and just plain citizens pledged its support today for a comprehensive solution to Pennsylvania's transportation funding dilemma and urged the General Assembly to address the issue in the current special legislative session.

In announcing its support for a solution now, the Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition listed more than two dozen members representing interests as diverse as unionized labor, health care, business, agriculture and urban restoration.

"We agree that this is a much greater problem than the $472 million lost from federal rejection of the I-80 tolling plan," said longtime lobbyist George Wolff, architect of the coalition.  He said the extent of the problem is more in line with what the state Transportation Advisory Committee recently identified as a $3.5 billion annual gap in transportation funding.

He noted that a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers released earlier this week rated the state's roads as a "D-minus," down from a D in a report issued in 2006.

Speakers at the news conference included representatives of AARP, the United Transportation Union, the Pennsylvania Tourism and Lodging Association and 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania.  They stressed that the General Assembly needs to consider and address the state's total transportation spectrum from local and intercity roads to public transit to rail and trucking and airports.

"The business of Pennsylvania revolves around our transportation network," said Wolff.  "What we pay at the state level helps fund local road and bridge improvements as well as state and interstate highway maintenance and construction, tens of thousands of bridges, public transit and our local airports as well."

Mark Berg, an AARP volunteer from Gettysburg, stressed the critical importance of public transit in the state's small towns and rural areas too senior citizens too old to drive or unable to maintain private cars.

"In our view, any updated transportation plan must address limited or nonexistent public transportation in suburban areas where most older Americans live," Berg said. "According to an AARP survey, 60 percent of people age 50 and above do not have public transportation within a 10-minute walk of their home ... a mismatch for a growing population that does not drive."

Berg's comments were echoed by Marilyn Wood, regional initiatives director for 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, who cited recent surveys indicating that 55 percent of Americans expressed a preference for living in smaller urban centers with a mix of single-family and other housing, sidewalks, shopping and schools within walking distance, commutes of less than 45 minutes, and high-quality transit.  She noted that the number "increased to 61% among those thinking of buying a house in the next three years."

Rick Pauli, an Amtrak conductor representing the transportation union, noted that the Keystone Corridor service he works between Philadelphia and Harrisburg serves thousands daily ranging from college students to commuters to tourists and shoppers who otherwise would be forced to use overcrowded highways were it not for the dependability and convenience of the rail service.

Other coalition members include the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Boroughs Association, dirt and gravel road representatives, freight and passenger rail organizations, air and seaports, travel and tourism organizations, farm organizations and bike and pedestrian trail supporters, as well as the Pennsylvania Public Transit Association, individual transit agencies and the highway construction industry.

"We believe that the various modes of transportation are so tightly linked that anything short of a comprehensive solution will not solve our individual problems," Wolff said.  "We need an adequately funded transportation system, in the interest of public safety, relief from traffic congestion, and to boost our economic recovery."

Asked why coalition members believe it is possible to achieve a comprehensive solution in an election year, Wolff said it is becoming clear to legislators and the public that Pennsylvania's transportation funding problem is important and needs to be addressed.  "The fact that it's an election year should not be used as a reason to put off a solution to an issue that is important to all Pennsylvanians," he said.

"Given the other issues that the General Assembly is going to face in the coming years, the time to address this one is now," Wolff said.  "The public will support it, it's not bogged down by philosophical or political divisions, and the benefits in providing a solution are considerable."

Pennsylvania's transportation funding dilemma has been decades in the making, Wolff said, although it began to become a prominent issue in 2006, upon completion of a study by the governor's Transportation Funding and Reform Commission.  That study pegged the annual transportation funding gap at about $1.8 billion.

The Transportation Advisory Committee study, which recently was adopted by the State Transportation Commission, was an update of the 2006 study.  Wolff noted that the $3.5 billion gap identified in the most recent study examined only highway and public transit funding, and did not include transit's capital needs or the funding for various other modes of transportation.  

In embracing a comprehensive solution, the coalition in general embraces the funding approach identified by the Pennsylvania Economy League in 2006.  That study called for a multifaceted funding approach, which would include a combination of increased user fees, taxes, local funding options and prudent use of debt.

Governor Rendell called the special legislative session and, at the urging of several coalition members, left the door open for a comprehensive solution rather than to only replace the I-80 tolling revenue.  The session could last through Nov. 30, when the regular legislative session expires.

SOURCE Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition