Pennsylvania’s problems with transportation funding are hardly new and should not be blamed entirely on the coronavirus pandemic.
Remember that last fall PennDOT was announcing delays to long-awaited projects in this region and all over the state, as planners had to figure out the best way to use limited available funds. The problems that led to that situation are still here and will continue long after the pandemic is over unless some changes are made.
It’s particularly frustrating because Pennsylvania has one of America’s highest gasoline taxes, yet it’s not producing enough money to properly repair and modernize our aging network of roads and bridges.
Fuel tax revenues have taken a hit due to the growing popularity of more efficient vehicles. Federal transportation funding has been flat for years. And billions of dollars that could be going toward infrastructure improvements have been spent to fund the state police due to a regrettable decision to use fuel tax revenue for that purpose.
Of course the pandemic has made the situation even worse. People are driving less, meaning fuel tax revenues are down sharply. PennDOT is looking at an $8.1 billion funding gap. It got so bad that the agency recently threatened to halt projects and lay off thousands of workers due to a $600 million shortfall. State lawmakers and the Wolf administration eventually worked out a deal to solve that problem in the short term, but the issue is not going away.
What’s been needed for a long time is a comprehensive approach to ensure Pennsylvania has enough money to sustain the transportation infrastructure so essential to our economy and quality of life.
Some old ideas still are worth pursuing, such as finding another way to fund state police or at least charging municipalities that rely on troopers rather than supporting a local force. An increase in the federal gas tax is warranted as well.
One new idea that has received plenty of attention is a proposal to charge fees for motorists driving across some bridges. ...
There’s no doubt that most members of the public do not support the prospect of higher tolls, fees or taxes. It’s understandable. The problem is that just about everyone agrees that providing transportation infrastructure is an essential government function, but it’s hard to garner support for any idea that would produce the funding required. ...
Are we eager for the prospect of being hit with tolls all over the state? No. But the very proposal should spur serious conversations about finding better ways of addressing transportation funding, once and for all. There’s no more time to wait.