Any driver idling in traffic while Gov. Corbett agonizes over whether to get off the dime on a transportation funding initiative had better hope his car doesn’t stall on a bridge in this region.
With a new report ranking the Philadelphia area third in the United States in deficient bridges, motorists also need to hope that state lawmakers face up to the urgent need for action over a projected $3.5 billion annual cost to repair roads and bridges across the state.
As state Auditor General Jack Wagner said last week, “It’s either pay me now, or pay me later. And if we don’t invest in our roads or bridges now, shame on us.”
The Republican-led legislature shouldn’t await a bridge collapse, of course, to do what’s right. Many of these same lawmakers charted the correct course several years ago: A sensible plan to collect long-haul tolls along I-80 to beef up the maintenance budget of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and fund SEPTA and other transit agencies was approved in 2007, but the state failed to enact the tolls.
All it would take now would be a few pennies on the gasoline tax paid at the pump to meet the state’s transportation needs — and that remains the most equitable and viable solution. But neither lawmakers nor the governor, who is hampered by his shortsighted no-tax pledge, appear willing to head down that road.
The best fallback plan may be to impose modest increases in vehicle-related fees and a bump in the wholesale gasoline tax. That was the recommendation over the summer from Corbett’s own task force on transportation funding. Yet, the latest word from the governor, incredibly, is that he may not push for the funding due to the state’s weak economy and other supposedly pressing issues.
Even for a governor who’s gotten sidetracked by issues like school vouchers, it’s hard to see how there could be a more pressing need than a backlog of more than 5,000 structurally deficient bridges.
That being the case, it’s good to hear that the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre), and State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) are talking about moving bipartisan legislation to raise transportation funds despite the governor’s reluctance.
Indeed, the trouble with adopting Corbett’s casual approach to this important policy issue is that it ignores the fact that House and Senate members facing election next year may be reluctant to enact even modest fee hikes for transportation needs or anything else.
One of the governor’s natural allies, Philadelphia-area Chamber of Commerce head Rob Wonderling, says, “People are crying out for decisive action.” On transportation funding, that may require that Corbett move aside and let lawmakers do the driving.