Local officials back Corbett transportation panel plan

A state transportation commission hearing at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s offices in Center City Friday morning turned into a cheerleading session in support of a plan to increase state transportation funding to the region by $150 million annually.

All told, the plan, released by Gov. Corbett’s Transportation Advisory Commission in August, would raise $2.6 billion statewide over the next decade.

The money would be raised through a combination of increased fees on driver’s licensing and registration, as well as tying the state gas tax to inflation.

Corbett said that increased transportation funding is one of his top legislative priorities.

Transportation and political officials and advocates from all the region’s counties, except Delaware, asked for increases in state funding.

DVRPC executive director Barry Seymour told the commission that the money represented “a good down payment” for a region with a $1 billion annual funding shortfall.

The money would be used to pay for the reconstruction of 110 miles of highway and 20 structurally deficient bridges ― representing 13 percent of the region’s total deck area that needs reconstructing ― over the next decade.

Among the projects that could go forward are a $75 million replacement and widening of Route 422’s bridge over the Schuylkill River, as well as a $216 million reconstruction of Route 322 in Delaware County and a $50 million reconstruction of one of Philadelphia’s Route 1 viaducts, which carries more than 100,000 cars every weekday.

“Right now [the commission report] is the best vehicle that’s out there” for increasing funding, Seymour said, though he notes that the money “may not be enough” to bring the state’s entire transportation system to a state of good repair.

The commission meets every other year to draft an update to the state’s 12-year transportation plan, which guides infrastructure spending decisions.

Bucks County commissioner Robert G. Loughery, speaking on behalf of the Metropolitan Caucus, a bipartisan group of city and suburban political leaders, told the commission that the region was most in need of funding to reconstruct aging parts of Interstate 95, improve passenger rail service and replace structurally deficient bridges.

Stephen Buckley, Philadelphia’s deputy streets commissioner for transportation, told the commission that “working in a bipartisan manner is the only way that this can be addressed.”

He asked the commission to support allowing local governments to raise their own revenue for local infrastructure projects but said that the city opposes any increase in the required local match to SEPTA funding.

He also asked that tolling be done in a “fair and equitable” manner.

SEPTA CFO and treasurer Richard Burnfield echoed support for the commission’s report, saying that increased funding under Act 44 was partly responsible for current historic ridership levels. He asked for a restoration in funding to continue progress on updating the system.

Sarah Stuart, campaign director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, asked that more money be put aside for pedestrian and bicycle projects because funding “has stalled in this region.”

She said that such projects enjoy widespread public and political support but there’s “not enough money” to make enough of them a reality. There’s currently a backlog of 70 such unfunded projects.

Stuart asked that new funding sources be set up to cover the design costs of implementing bike trails an pedestrian amenities.

But Leo Bagley, assistant director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission, noted that “there’s a big hurdle here” in terms of people’s unwillingness to pay for improved transportation projects.

Bagley has faced intense pushback for a proposal he helped develop that would fund regional rail extension and road improvements on Route 422 by tolling the highway.

Contact the reporter at acampisi@planphilly.com

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