Transportation spending on fast track in Corbett budget

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Transportation spending didn't rate much of a mention in Governor Tom Corbett's 2013-14 budget address earlier this week, but the cabinet secretary who explained to the media what's in store for the Commonwealth's roads, bridges and mass transit systems in the coming years couldn't say enough.

Transportation secretary Barry Schoch, a traffic engineer with three decades of experience, called the administration's proposal to spend almost $2 billion over the next five years "the most significant transportation plan I've ever seen in my career in any state, or from the federal government."

Both Corbett and Schoch believe the plan is a road map to better safety, economic vitality and more jobs.

Here are the numbers, as the Corbett administration sees them:

* About 1.5 million students travel on 31,000 school buses each day over thousands of miles of roads in need of repair and more than 4,000 structurally deficient bridges.

* More than $500 billion worth of goods and services move across Pennsylvania roads each year, and improved infrastructure will give the state a competitive edge.

* Spending on improvement will create 50,000 jobs.

* And by bolstering mass transit, highways will be less congested. (Amtrak alone keeps 1.4 million people off the roadways, they say.)

Schoch explained the Corbett administration's carrot-and-stick approach when municipalities want state help in improving roads, bridges, traffic signals and public transportation.

He said the state will pay more to have the studies for the work done, and if municipalities go along with the studies' recommendations, the money they will have to come up with for the work will drop. If not, it will increase.

For example, Schoch said money could be saved by "bundling" bridge work. If four bridges in an area need repair, money could be saved by making them all the same length, if possible, Schoch said. "You could save 60 percent on design [costs] and 30 percent on construction [costs]."

If municipalities go along with the "bundle-able" recommendations, their contribution "may be as low as zero." If not, it could be as high as 30 percent, Schoch said.

Similarly, in upgrading traffic signals, which Schoch said cuts down on wasted time and fuel, the state "will have the right to reduce the liquid fuels tax [paid to municipalities] to make sure [signals] are operating properly."

The Corbett administration also wants to create a $60 million "multi-modal" fund that would help pay for alternative transportation, including bike and pedestrian projects, Schoch said.

To help pay for his plan, Corbett wants to lift the cap on a wholesale tax paid by oil and gas companies in three installments. That would allow it to rise by about 28 cents a gallon over five years, and that increase will likely be passed on to motorists.

Pennsylvania drivers will be directly affected in other ways by the governor's plan.

Car registration would be every two years instead of annually, although the $36-a-year fee would remain the same.

Also, a driver's license would be good for six years instead of the current four. Schoch said he originally favored a license that was good for eight years, but agreed to six after consulting with state police commissioner Frank Noonan.

Transportation spending on fast track in Corbett budget"He told us, you know, people's looks can change quite a bit after eight years. They don't look like they used to," Schoch said with a laugh.

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Allentown, PA 18102


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