July 2010 Column - Special Legislative Session to Address Pennsylvania’s Transportation Infrastructure Funding Crisis
By Dave Hickernell, State Representative
98th Legislative District
Earlier this year, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) rejected Pennsylvania’s application to toll Interstate 80, creating a $470 million hole in Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure budget. Gov. Ed Rendell subsequently called a special session of the Legislature to address the situation and develop solutions to the funding crisis.
The development and maintenance of our infrastructure are core functions of state government. I am encouraged that we are meeting in special session to address Pennsylvania’s aging transportation infrastructure but given the relatively short time left on the legislative calendar, I have serious concerns about whether we will be able to give these issues the full attention they require.
It is important to note that Pennsylvania did not arrive at this crisis by accident. In 2007, House Democrats pushed Act 44, which proposed tolling I-80 to fund a variety of transportation and transit projects across the state, without any public review or input. I opposed this effort because I had concerns that the proposal to toll I-80 did not meet FHWA requirements. Those concerns proved to be correct and now we find ourselves without a reliable funding source for our transportation needs during one of the worst economic recessions in generations.
When he announced plans for a special session, the governor said every idea should be on the table. I could not agree more. As we look for a solution to this very serious crisis, we must give full and open consideration to every proposal offered.
One of the proposals being considered is the package of legislation offered by Rep. Rick Geist (R-Altoona), Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee. The plan includes 11 legislative proposals designed to help close the $2 billion-a-year shortfall in transportation funding in the Commonwealth. Among the initiatives in the plan are:
- A proposal to enable Pennsylvania to enter into public-private partnerships (P3s) in which the government partners with the private sector to help rebuild the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure. The House Republican Policy Committee has held three hearings on P3s which are a non-tax alternative to transportation funding that have proven very successful in other states.
- A proposal to begin using a design-build system in Pennsylvania. Design-build is a construction project delivery system where the design and construction aspects are contracted for with a single entity known as the design-builder or design-build contractor. This system minimizes the project risk for the Commonwealth and improves the project delivery time by overlapping the design phase and construction phase of a project.
- A proposal which would allow PennDOT to bid out operations of an entire maintenance district or perhaps the maintenance of an entire interstate highway.
The problem is clear. Pennsylvania has 7,000 miles of roads that are deemed in poor condition, and more than 5,600 bridges that are considered “structurally deficient” and we need to find a reliable funding source to fix them. That challenge is even more difficult because of the financial challenges we are facing. While I am hopeful that the special session will yield solutions, if it does not, I am committed to raising these issues again in the next legislative session.
Rep. Dave Hickernell
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Sean Yeakle
House Republican Public Relations