SEN. DON WHITE: Inaction on road funding costly to all
Nobody should really be surprised over PennDOT’s recent announcement of new weight restrictions for more than 1,000 bridges across Pennsylvania. As vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, I have watched the many reports roll in over the years detailing the advancing deterioration of Pennsylvania’s highways and bridges.
Our transportation system routinely ranks at or near the bottom of most national surveys, and for good reason.
It’s no secret that Pennsylvania has underfunded its maintenance programs and consequently the list of crumbling highways and structurally deficient bridges continues to grow.
I was hopeful earlier this year that the Legislature and administration could finally settle on a plan to invest billions of dollars in new funding for rehabilitation and construction projects. Unfortunately, that glimmer of hope fell by the wayside in the closing days of the General Assembly’s work on the state budget.
CALL TO ACTION
We have known for years that our roads and bridges are crumbling and are now being forced to deal with the consequences of our inaction. I hope these new weight restrictions will finally serve as a call to action to move Pennsylvania forward.
As we’ve seen with the Corporate Campus, Northpointe and the projected work at Joseph Land Development/119 Business Park, economic development and job growth are directly tied to accessing a viable transportation network.
These new weight restrictions will certainly make Pennsylvania less attractive for business growth and will have a devastating effect on our current employers — particularly those in industries that rely on transporting heavy loads, namely coal, natural gas and timber.
The five-county region of Indiana-based PennDOT District 10 will face new weight restrictions on 45 bridges, including Route 56 over Little Brush Creek, near Brush Valley; both Route 119 bridges over East Pike; and Route 422 over Crooked Creek, near Shelocta. These are main arteries through our region, and the weight restrictions will play havoc with truck traffic.
Energy sector employers are already financially strained by the new regulatory schemes being imposed as part of the Obama administration’s ongoing war on coal. The new bridge restrictions will cause operators to either lighten loads or plan extensive detours, which will drive up costs, especially impacting our local generating plants and putting the jobs they provide in peril.
In the long run, these weight restrictions will affect all of us. We will pay the costs of increased shipping charges for the goods and commodities trucked into our region. Many students face longer bus rides as school districts revise their transportation maps. On top of that, our roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate.
I remain committed to working to develop a comprehensive transportation funding plan. There is no doubt that any plan will include increased costs for motorists.
But, as we are now seeing, inaction is also expensive in terms of the potential for lost jobs and increased costs for goods and services.
To be clear, I also believe any transportation funding plan should include cost-saving components such as reforms to Pennsylvania’s archaic prevailing wage requirements, public transit systems across the state and PennDOT’s own internal operations.
As we work to raise more dollars, we must be equally committed to ensuring our resources are invested wisely.
Local residents can also do their part to push for transportation improvements across our region. Over the past few weeks, many Indiana County residents have made it clear they do not support funding the roundabout project on the eastern end of Indiana Borough while essential bridge repair projects are stalled by lack of funding. This kind of public input is critical to the planning process, and that is why PennDOT is constantly accepting comments on projects. As part of PennDOT’s update to the commonwealth’s 12-Year Transportation Program, the agency is encouraging Pennsylvanians to visit www.TalkPATransportation.com to provide input on their transportation priorities and to register for the program’s first-ever interactive online public meeting.
This is an opportunity for local residents to present their opinions on all aspects of transportation, not just bridges that need repairs. In particular, this is an opportunity to weigh in on PennDOT’s proposed traffic roundabout project at the intersection of Philadelphia Street and East Pike in White Township.
All taxpayers should take advantage of the comment period open between today and Oct. 7. You can take the “Tell Us What You Think” survey on the website; email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a printed survey copy; or call (855) 896-4930.
The online public meeting will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 26. During the webcast, state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch will provide an update on state transportation issues and answer questions from registered participants. Pennsylvanians can register for the meeting at www.TalkPATransportation.com and questions may be submitted in advance to email@example.com.
State Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, represents the 41st Senatorial District, which includes all of Indiana County as well as parts of Armstrong, Butler, Clearfield and Westmoreland counties.