Time for Serious Transportation Funding Solutions

Harrisburg, PA – Commonwealth Foundation President and CEO Matthew Brouillette released the following statement in response to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) rejection of Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) application to toll Interstate 80:

“Now that the federal government has rejected the ill-conceived plan to toll I-80 for a third, and hopefully final time, Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly must implement serious solutions to the Commonwealth’s transportation funding challenges.

“Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure is a core function of government.  However, taxpayers can’t afford to pay more at the pump so Harrisburg must finally reprioritize the spending of the $66 billion it already spends.  Transportation funding will be found in reducing spending on hockey arenas, convention centers, film producers, lobbyists, bike trails, beautification efforts, corporate welfare for big business, and the like, and putting that money towards filling potholes, building roads, and retrofitting bridges.

“It will also require mass transit reform, including competitive contracting of all transit services and having transit riders pay their fair share of the costs rather than having their transportation choices subsidized by taxpayers.  Only with these reforms will government take care of its core functions, while respecting and being responsible with the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.”

The Commonwealth Foundation has identified a number of options available for lawmakers to meet Pennsylvania’s transportation funding challenges. Transportation reforms should include:

  1. Repealing prevailing wage laws that tack hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars onto the cost of road and bridge construction and repair.
  2. Ending the funneling/flexing of hundreds of millions of federal dollars in highway and bridge money to other purposes.
  3. Enabling public-private partnerships, including leasing of the Pennsylvania Turnpike which, based on previous offers could, (by investing a lease payment) generate upward of $50 billion over the next 50 years.

Mass transit reforms should include:

  1. Competitive contracting of all services.
  2. Increase reliance on local funding and fares.
  3. Subsidize riders, not agencies.
  4. Reduce restrictions on transportation providers.

In 2006, the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission wrote: “The Commission concludes that no additional funding should be provided for highways, bridges and transit unless a series of parallel actions are taken to reform funding structure and a number of transportation business practices.” [Emphasis added]  Yet little to no reform has occurred to date.

“As we predicted almost three years ago, the plan to tax I-80 drivers to redistribute 40 percent of the revenue to projects elsewhere, such as mass transit in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, would never meet the federal qualifications for tolling,” added Brouillette.  “Thankfully, the FWHA protected Pennsylvania motorists from having their infrastructure handed over to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, a haven for patronage, nepotism, inefficiency, and corruption-as recent investigations, lawsuits, and convictions have further demonstrated.”

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The Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org) is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA.