HARRISBURG - In a single afternoon, the state Senate on Wednesday did what the House had agonized over for months: approved a $2.3 billion transportation funding bill to repair aging highways and bridges, and bolster mass transit across the state.
The vote cements a major victory for Gov. Corbett by delivering the biggest transportation spending plan in 15 years, one to address critical infrastructure needs while creating tens of thousands of jobs.
"This legislation is key to the success of Pennsylvania and health and welfare of the region," said Sen. John Rafferty (R., Montgomery), chairman of the Transportation Committee.
The bill now goes back to the House for a pro forma vote Thursday afternoon. It could be signed by Corbett the same day.
The funding comes at a crucial time for Corbett, as he begins his bid for reelection. It is the only one of his legislative priorities - the others include reining in public employee pension costs and privatizing liquor sales - that he has accomplished in 2013.
But it comes at a price.
Motorists will be footing the bill for the new investments with higher gas taxes - as much as 28 cents a gallon based on 2013 prices - and increased vehicle registration, driver's license, and moving violation fees that will be phased in over five years.
The bulk of the money - $1.65 billion - will go toward fixing bridges and roads; about $475 million will go to mass transit systems, including SEPTA.
The Senate's 43-7 vote nearly mirrored the roll call in June, when the chamber passed a slightly higher transportation spending bill, only to see it stall in the House. But this time the bill also contained controversial language to allow workers on smaller construction projects to be paid less than union-scale wages.
Supporters of the final bill in both chambers heralded it as a major economic-development driver that will generate as many as 50,000 jobs.
"It represents a comprehensive and thought-out approach to our transportation needs and will get projects moving now," said Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson).
Some Republican opponents bemoaned the boost in taxes while other critics - mainly Democrats - objected to the increase in the threshold required for paying the prevailing union wage, from transportation projects totaling $25,000 to those totaling $100,000.
"I cannot bring myself to support a bill along the lines of harming working Pennsylvanians," said Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny).
Some Senate Republicans defended the move to change the prevailing wage law - the first in 50 years - saying it would be limited to local transportation projects.
Sen. John Gordner (R., Columbia) said municipalities were struggling to pay union-scale wages for small road projects.
The funding will be disbursed across all transportation modes - from gravel roads to superhighways, roads crossing streams and rivers, and airports, seaports, rail lines, and bike paths.
The bill also will allow speed limits to increase to 70 m.p.h. on certain roads to be determined by a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation study.
Road Projects in the Works
Repaving and widening Route 322 from Route 1 to I-95 in Delaware County. $216 million.
Rebuilding and widening three miles of road, and repairing 11 bridges and four retaining walls along Route 1 from Old Lincoln Highway to Route 413 in Bucks County. $216 million.
Reconstructing the road and bridges along Route 422 from Berks County to the Schuylkill in Chester County. $46.5 million.
Resurfacing and replacing pipes along Route 252 from the Delaware County line to the Montgomery County line in Chester County. $15.3 million.
Replacing the Route 422 bridge over the Schuylkill, Indian Lane, and the Schuylkill River Trail at Betzwood, and replacing the bridge carrying Route 23 over Route 422 in Montgomery County. $149 million.
Repairing the Chestnut Street Bridge at 30th Street in Philadelphia. $80 million.
Replacing Vine Street Expressway bridges, involving seven new structures carrying 18th Street, the Family Court Pedestrian Walkway, 19th Street, the Free Library Pedestrian Walkway, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, 21st Street, and 22d Street in Philadelphia. $110 million.
SOURCE: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation