Gov. candidate Wagner offers plan for highways, rails

Jack Wagner proposed today to undertake a major rebuilding of Pennsylvania’s highways, dams and intercity rail network, and also to expand broadband Internet access in rural areas.
The Democratic candidate for governor was reluctant, though, to say how much all of this would cost or where he’d find the money to pay for it.
Speaking at a news conference in Philadelphia, he said that “all options” for funding needed to be “on the table” in budgetary decisions made by the next governor and the legislature. But he clearly did not want to be pinned down in advance.
“You need bipartisan support,” he said of what surely would be battles in Harrisburg over any effort to increase taxes, raise fees or undertake more borrowing for infrastructure improvements.
Just two days ago, the federal government blew a $400 billion hole in the state’s plans for highway and mass transit funding by denying permission for the state to place tolls along I-80.
Wagner, the state auditor general, was critical of what he said was Pennsylvania’s disregard of warnings from the U.S. Department of Transportation the first time it turned down the state’s I-80 proposal, saying toll revenue was to be used for only interstate maintenance.
He said Pennsylvania might have won the right to toll the 320-mile roadway if it had proposed to use the fees only for that purpose — and not for other projects, including mass transit.
He did not rule out applying again if he became governor.
Wagner, of Pittsburgh, is one of four Democrats on the ballot in the May 18 primary. Rendell, also a Democrat, cannot seek a third term.
At his news conference, he laid out what he called his “reform proposal for infrastructure.”
It included building high-speed rail connections among Pennsylvania cities, making the turnpike “a model national superhighway” and convening a “blue-ribbon committee to offer realistic solutions to the bottlenecks throughout Pennsylvania, including the Schuylkill Expressway and Parkway East in Pittsburgh.”
He also proposed to modernize state roads and bridges.
Using borrowed money in part, the state in recent years has reduced the number of structurally deficient bridges from 8,000 to 5,600. Wagner said that was a good start, but only a start.
Asked repeatedly in an interview what options he would consider for infrastructure funding, he mentioned charging more than the current $36 to register “a $250,000 Rolls-Royce,” while not charging more for an economy car.
He said he’d also consider higher driver’s license fees or a tax on tires. He did not rule out a hike in the gasoline tax.
“There are 20, 30 ideas,” he said, on finding revenue to “invest in infrastructure.”