State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said the long-awaited four-lane upgrade to U.S. Route 322 in Potters Mills is one of the projects that requires the state House to move on a transportation funding bill.
“This time, when we get the funding, we’re going to move fast. I want that project to get to consensus and get the shovels in the ground.” he said Tuesday during a Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County membership lunch.
While the project still will need environmental clearance, “this time, we’re actually going to build something,” he said.
Schoch spoke forcefully on the local project and the need for the state House to vote on the bill in the next two weeks, send it back to the Senate for consensus and get it to Gov. Tom Corbett.
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He said the implications are mighty for infrastructure around the state if lawmakers can’t agree on a funding plan. The Senate passed Senate Bill 1 in June, which looks to spend $2.5 billion a year on infrastructure, mainly through a gradual uncapping of the oil company franchise tax.
That figure was recommended by Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Committee, and Schoch said those provisions, and others to raise license and registration fees, would cost the average driver $2.50 per week.
As he’s said before, Schoch said the cost of doing nothing is much higher, using bridges as an example.
In August, 1,200 bridges across the state were posted with weight restrictions due to a lack of funding for repairs. Four state-owned and five privately owned bridges are in Centre County.
Without the funding package, Schoch said, 135 more bridges will be posted next year.
“For $2.50 a week, we can solve a lot of those problems,” he said, noting that a focus on bridges means not as many roads are paved, and other infrastructure is suffering, like the Colyer Lake dam. “Either we make a decision to invest in transportation and we see an improvement in these conditions or you’re going to see, next year, the next set of consequences.”
Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, agreed that the cost of inaction is high.
“I remain willing to support these initiatives,” he said. “We need to do something.”
Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven and a party leader, is “very hopeful” the bill will see a House vote in the next two weeks, said House Democrats spokesman Bill Patton.
“There has been some encouraging discussion last week and this week, so far, that is continuing, but nothing has crystallized yet,” Patton said. “Rep. Hanna would completely agree with the secretary about the need to get something done.”
House Democrats also would consider $2.5 billion a minimum, Patton said.
Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, said members want to vote on the bill, but that the responsibility lies with the leadership to put the bill on the agenda, noting that Majority Leader Mike Turzai has said he doesn’t support the bill.
Conklin said members also need to act on the many amendments that have been introduced.
“We need transportation funding,” he said. “What I’m anxious to see is the finished product of it.”
Conklin wants to see his own transportation proposal amended into the main bill. His revenue suggestions include a fee on Marcellus Shale wells, based on the amount of natural gas extracted, and closing the “Delaware loophole,” in which corporations avoid paying taxes.
On top of the infrastructure problems, Schoch also mentioned job implications, based on a question from former Rep. Lynn Herman. Schoch said the transportation plan is expected to create 50,000 jobs statewide.
If the legislature does nothing, Schoch said, 12,500 construction layoffs are expected.
“It’s been an important message,” he said. “That’s a pretty stark comparison.”
Dan McNichol praised Schoch’s efforts Tuesday. The journalist and author spoke to the CBICC group on his cross-country tour called “ Dire States,” in which he’s calling for better transportation infrastructure by looking at all related systems — roads, dams, utilities, parks, ports, railways and more.
He showed off his touring vehicle, a 1949 Hudson, and said he hopes to learn more about how Pennsylvania responds to the infrastructure challenges.
“It’s not easy to say, ‘You can’t use this bridge,’ ” he said, referencing the recent weight restrictions. “That is true leadership.”
Schoch said he hopes that, the next time he’s in Centre County, he can outline for the group a Potters Mills Gap construction schedule.
“I can’t think of a corridor in the state that would benefit more from the investment on Route 322 between Seven Mountains and State College,” he said.