Lehigh Valley

Lehigh Valley faces a $4.4B gap in transportation funding over next 25 years

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Lehigh Valley faces a $4.39 billion gap in funding for transportation needs over the next 25 years, and that's just to maintain assets it already has.

"There is just not enough funding to maintain what we have now," let alone money for potential improvements, Becky Bradley told the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission on Thursday night.

"It's only going to get worse," Bradley, executive director of the LVPC, said.

"You will sit in traffic longer. You will be driving on bumpier roads," she said.

She said public safety and school transportation will be affected. The dire estimate for the funding shortfall does not include rising costs over the years.

"It will become a crisis," she said, unless money becomes available. Still, she and board members say they will focus on moving forward.

Last week, the commission found out that state funding over the next 12 years will be cut by $380 million, from $1.13 billion to $747 million. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has made cuts statewide, using a formula based heavily on the number of miles of interstate highway in each region. The Lehigh Valley has just one interstate, Interstate 78. Philadelphia has several interstate highways, and the cut there was only 5%, versus 34% locally.

Bradley said PennDOT money has gone to other purposes, such as pensions for state police. The cuts in transportation funding means the Lehigh Valley may have to delay or cut some big projects, just as the development of more warehouses puts stress on existing roads. If federal funding also declines, the situation will get worse.

The commission staff is working nights and weekends on its own plan, due in August, to determine what can be done and what projects are put off.

"We will get through this," Chairman Stephen Repasch said.

Bradley urged members to contact state representatives and senators, and to "focus on solutions."

"We will do the best we can," she said.

How Pennsylvania raises money for transportation has to be looked at, Charles Doyle, LVPC's director of transportation planning and data, told the commission.

The state gas tax is already the highest in the U.S., Doyle said. As vehicles become more fuel efficient or powered by electricity, that tax will raise less money.

The commission also got a look at a draft of Future Lehigh Valley, a comprehensive plan for the region. The final plan will be available in August. It must be approved by Northampton and Lehigh counties before taking effect.

Commission member Christopher Amato, a native of White Township, New Jersey, who now lives in Northampton County, asked if his hometown could seek information on model ordinances from the LVPC. The rural Warren County town is considering a proposal from Jaindl Land Co. to develop about 6.3 million square feet of warehouses along Route 519.

White Township is "one of the last vestiges of Mayberry" left in the U.S., he said, referring to a fictional North Carolina town in the 1960s television series "The Andy Griffith Show." He said the township, home to about 5,000 people, has more in common with the small towns in the northern edges of the Lehigh Valley than the cities along the Route 22 corridor.

Repasch said the Lehigh Valley has not had much success in controlling warehouse development either.

Bradley said New Jersey municipalities have more authority over land use than their Pennsylvania counterparts.

Amato thanked them for their advice, noting, "I know this is not New Jersey."

"Not yet," responded Richard Molchany, a commission member from Lehigh County, to laughter.

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