By William F. Adolph Jr.
The recently adopted transportation funding package was a critically needed and long overdue investment in our state's transportation network. The decision to adopt the funding package was not easy, nor was it politically expedient, but it was a decision to govern and one that will yield significant return on investment.
Many ask why current revenues were not sufficient to meet growing needs. Pennsylvania had a funding gap because revenue streams that fund transportation projects have not changed since 1997, which is 16 years of stagnant or declining revenue due to increased fuel efficiency. Comparatively, the cost of materials and labor has grown by triple digits during that same period.
It is difficult to ask Pennsylvanians to contribute more to maintain and expand our transportation infrastructure. However, residents should know that the legislature thoroughly evaluated the $3.5 billion funding need identified by transportation experts in 2010 and adopted a lower, long-term plan of $2.3 billion to meet critical needs. The investment plan eliminates the state's 12-cent liquid-fuel tax assessed on the consumer at the pump and shifts all fuel taxes to oil producers by eliminating the cap on the oil company franchise tax. The plan will be phased in through 2017. The most noticeable impact drivers may see is a nine-cent-per-gallon increase at the pump next year. However, these increased costs will yield notable benefits. The funding plan will create jobs, spur economic growth, save motorists money, and improve public safety.
The economic impact of this investment will be tremendous. Industry professionals report the new transportation funding will create 60,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. Moreover, our aging infrastructure has become a deterrent to businesses looking to relocate. Investing in infrastructure will make Pennsylvania more economically competitive, attract new businesses, and ensure that many others, including FedEx, BNY Mellon, Aqua America, and Comcast, will stay in the commonwealth. A more reliable mass-transit system and less-congested roads will make Pennsylvania a place where workers can get to their jobs and companies pay less to get goods to market. These factors translate into a better quality of life and new economic opportunities for state residents.
There is a cost to doing nothing. According to a May report by TRIP, a national transportation research group, Pennsylvania's failing infrastructure costs motorists $20.60 a week. TRIP reports that the state's 8.79 million drivers pay an additional $9.4 billion annually in the form of vehicle operating costs, lost time, and wasted fuel due to traffic congestion and crashes.
Improving our transportation network will generate a net savings for Pennsylvania drivers. The Transportation Funding Advisory Commission's 2011 report, which advocated for a funding package similar to the recently passed plan, reported that a typical driver in the commonwealth would see an additional cost of $2.54 a week after the plan is fully implemented in 2018. With the new funding plan alleviating much of the $9.4 billion in costs identified by the TRIP report, motorists are likely to see a weekly savings of $18 from reduced vehicle operating and maintenance costs and less time and fuel wasted in traffic tie-ups.
Public safety, a core function of government, is another major factor in moving this plan. Years of underfunding have left our roads and bridges crumbling and unsafe. Nearly 20 percent of Pennsylvania bridges are structurally deficient, which results in closures or weight restrictions. Each new restriction or closure means one more fire truck with a longer response time and another ambulance delayed before it can deliver life-saving care. As responsible adults charged with governing, we have a duty to ensure the safety of our families and the traveling public. The General Assembly would be failing Pennsylvania residents if it did not properly maintain our infrastructure.
More than 250 business, community, agricultural, municipal, transit, labor, health-care, recreational, tourism, and environmental groups representing millions of Pennsylvania residents have advocated for action on infrastructure investment. They all concluded that the improvements made possible by this funding package will improve the quality of life, facilitate greater economic growth, and improve public safety in our commonwealth.
It is never easy to ask taxpayers to part with their hard-earned money. However, in the end, this infrastructure plan will prove to be a beneficial investment.