A bill that would help solve SEPTA's latest financial crisis - at least for another year - was passed by the state House of Representatives yesterday.

The bill, approved by a 105-96 vote, would allow the commonwealth to pump millions of dollars into road and bridge projects statewide and stem the financial bleeding at public transit agencies, including SEPTA, said state Rep. Dwight Evans, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Evans, a Philadelphia Democrat, had pledged to hold up the budget process if fellow legislators didn't address the crisis in transportation.

The fight for transportation funding is not over," Evans said. "The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration and we expect to be driving the train just as hard to ensure passage there.

"The legislation will drive funding out across Pennsylvania in the new budget year and I'm more than pleased about that," Evans said.

The Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission released a report in November saying the state needed to raise $1.7 billion a year to keep public transportation systems running and roads and bridges from crumbling.

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Keith McCall, D-Carbon, the state would generate $700 million from higher tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and by turning Interstate 80 into a toll road.

Of that amount, $450 million would be funneled to road and bridge projects at the state and local level.

The remaining $250 million would be channeled to the newly created Public Transit Fund, which would then channel that money, plus money from four existing transit funds, to transit agencies for operating costs, capital expenditures and other programs, Evans said.

"This is a jobs bill," Evans said. He added that Pennsylvanians would benefit from work generated by projects funded by the legislation.

"From union contractors who fix our bridges to the folks who run coffee stands on the transit systems, everyone will benefit," he said.

In fiscal year 2007-08, SEPTA would see its state funding increase from $418.4 million to $520 million.

Even with the added money, SEPTA would have to raise fares 11 percent. *