Rendell goes on tour to push transportation funding

SWARTHMORE and TREVOSE — Gov. Rendell has taken his transportation funding push on the road again, visiting two Philadelphia suburbs Tuesday in the course of a four-day, 20-stop bus tour of the state.

The locations — under the Crum Creek Bridge in Swarthmore and along State Road in Trevose — were intended to highlight important maintenance issues that won’t get addressed without increased state aid.

SEPTA  wants to replace the Crum Creek Bridge — which was built in 1895 and carries 323 regional rail trains on the Media/Elwyn line weekly — but the authority can’t afford the $57 million price tag for a new structure.

The 95-foot span is closed to freight traffic on one track and has weight restrictions on another track. Railroad bridges built today are designed to carry twice the load as the Crum Creek Bridge.

Meanwhile in Bucks County, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation wouldn’t have the $4 million needed to replace an 11.4 mile segment of State Road even with the money promised under Act 44.

Flanked by SEPTA officials, state lawmakers and transit advocates, Rendell said he wants the state’s lawmakers to convene Aug. 23 to pass legislation that would fill the $472 million hole caused by the state’s failure to toll Interstate 80.

He’s also pushing the Legislature to raise additional revenue to meet further transportation needs in the two weeks from the start of a special session to Labor Day. Rendell said he’d like between $1.5 and $3 billion in additional revenue.

Still, it remains to be seen how effective Rendell’s latest tour will be in pushing the legislation through. He sketched out two proposals for covering the funding gap: taxing oil companies to the tune of $800 million a year or indexing motor vehicle fees to inflation and hiking the gas tax by 3.5 cents to net about $570 million a year.

Though Rendell acknowledged that raising taxes or fees will be a heavy political lift, he said these measures would go unnoticed by the average Pennsylvanian. Furthermore, he argued that polling data show voters are willing to pay more in exchange for transportation improvements that they can see and ride on.

Rendell has broached those options before without the Legislature moving on either of them, and he admitted that “I don’t have leverage” with lawmakers to push a quick fix. Instead, he said he’s hoping that his tour will get voters to apply pressure to their elected representatives.

“You have leverage I don’t have,” he told a crowd of activists and construction workers in Trevose, adding that “it’s time for them to get back to work.”

Rendell also pointed to the economic stimulus transportation projects represent. By June 30, federal stimulus money the state spent on transportation improvements created 8,600 construction jobs and caused firms to rehire 3,600 workers, he said. Pointedly, the Crum Creek Bridge is located in Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi’s district. Pileggi has been openly critical of Rendell calling the state transportation funding issue a crisis. He didn’t make an appearance at the press conference.

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