PennDOT enlargement of tasks below scrutiny throughout transit financing uncertainty | Information | Pittsburgh
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Pennsylvania’s transportation officials have estimated it takes about $ 15 billion a year to keep the state’s roads and bridges in good condition, even though only about $ 6.9 billion is available. This deficiency has led Governor Tom Wolf, D-York, and his government to propose several methods of increasing revenue for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). These include the expiry of the state gas tax – which is shrinking anyway due to lower driving behavior due to the pandemic and the increased use of electric and fuel-efficient cars – and the collection of tolls for several bridges in Pennsylvania. Another suggestion was to charge communities that do not have a local police force or state police force, as the state police force is partially funded by the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Fund.
State Republicans, who control the State House and Senate, have largely opposed Wolf’s proposals, particularly the toll plan, and suggested increasing electric vehicle fees to fill the void (although their proposals are unlikely to go anywhere near enough money ).
Increasing revenue isn’t the only way to fill the estimated budget gap, however, and re-examination shows it highlights projects to expand roads and bridges, some of which some say are too costly and unnecessary.
Jon Geeting co-founded the Philadelphia-based urban policy group 5th Square. He tweeted on March 15 that people should be a little skeptical about PennDOT’s budget estimates as they involve some projects he believes are wasteful.
“Included in these sums are all kinds of dubious projects to expand highway and road capacity that are unnecessary and shouldn’t take place,” Geeting wrote.
Transpo Financing Reporters: Take these PennDOT estimates of your budget needs with a big bucket of salt. Included in these sums are all kinds of dubious projects to expand motorway and road capacity that are unnecessary and should not take place. Https://t.co/gKNmmMhqFt
– Jon Geeting (@jongeeting) March 15, 2021 Last fall, PennDOT announced that it needed a $ 600 million bond this year to keep work on many projects within its multi-billion dollar long-term budget. According to PennLive, around $ 500 million of that billion dollar budget was allocated to adding lanes to highways and roads.
The widening of motorways has been criticized as studies show that any associated relief is short-lived. Many expensive road widening projects in the US do not result in less traffic due to the induced demand. (If you make a highway more attractive, more drivers will use it and it will become congested again.)
PennDOT is proposing to expand Interstate 83 in Harrisburg from four to eight lanes and plans to allocate around 100 million US dollars initially. Ultimately, the PennDOT expansion will cost a total of $ 300 million. The public interest group US PIRG has called the extension of the I-83 a “boondoggle” and has found that an initial project study carried out for PennDOT shows that part of the motorway has no congestion problems. The greater Harrisburg area is growing in population, but the induced demand would likely encourage more drivers to use the freeway, which could ultimately undermine the expansion’s goals anyway.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse told PennLive in 2019 that he did not support the I-83 expansion plan and that this would run counter to the city’s goals to reduce the number of road and traffic deaths in the state capital.
Another project near Pittsburgh is the extension of Route 30 in Westmoreland County. PennDOT plans to spend at least $ 93 million on a five-mile stretch of Route 30 between Irwin and North Versailles. Unlike Harrisburg, Westmoreland County’s population has shrunk quite rapidly for years. According to a 2017 TribLive story, PennDOT officials said widening the suburban freeway should help reduce traffic accidents and improve safety.
Studies show that widening freeways can actually lead to accidents and make roads more dangerous by encouraging drivers to speed. Local officials in North Huntingdon also feared the expansion project would discourage drivers from visiting small businesses along Route 30 because it is more difficult to access.
PennDOT spokesman Alexis Campbell says the department disagrees that expanding projects won’t improve traffic or safety in the long run.
“Many local roads or commuter roads are insufficient to handle these volumes or types of vehicles,” says Campbell. “This is particularly true in the Harrisburg area. The construction of a modern I-83 corridor will no doubt help improve safety on local roads.”
She adds that there are many considerations that go into planning highway and bridge projects, including surface renewal, safety improvements, and regional and local mobility. According to Campbell, the agency plans volume requirements up to 20 years in the future.
“The expansion of the I-83 project is needed to address substandard design features, improve security in the area, and improve mobility,” says Campbell. “Before the widening, the acceleration and deceleration lanes were insufficient, and in some places the motorway narrows to a single lane. The continued widening will take these conditions into account.”
Interestingly, PennDOT’s new budget constraints are also related to spending on expansion and new highway construction projects, but these are outside of its remit. Beginning in 2022, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, which operates the state’s toll roads separate from PennDOT, will cease allocating $ 400 million to PennDOT.
The Turnpike Commission has complained for years about providing PennDOT with hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to fund road, bridge and public transportation projects. The Turnpike Commission has grappled with heavy debts for years and increased tolls to pay off that debt.
However, the Turnpike Commission is also running a $ 6.9 billion expansion project to add two lanes to the entire section of I-76 toll road, not to mention highway expansion projects in the Pittsburgh area like the Southern Beltway and the controversial Mon-Fayette Expressway. The commission says the expansion project is necessary to modernize many older sections of I-76 while maintaining two-lane traffic throughout construction. However, the Turnpike extension has also been classified as a boondoggle by PennPIRG, a state-level group related to US-PIRG.
PennPIRG’s Matthew Casale said in 2019 that the state “needs to start solving our transportation problems, from potholes to pollution, and not waste money on the kind of highway projects that should be in our rearview mirror.”
According to the US PIRG, “Investing in public transportation, road tolls and technological measures to help drivers avoid traffic at peak times can often address congestion more cheaply and effectively than upgrading highways,” it says on its website.