The Centre County board of commissioners is considering implementing a five-year transportation infrastructure funding plan that could create jobs and address backlogged construction projects.
In May, the board voted to enact a $5 nonexempt vehicle registration fee as part of the Act 89 transportation bill of 2013 signed by former Gov. Tom Corbett. Following the vote, the board adopted Resolution 2 of 2017, which directed county staff to investigate leverage opportunities for the registration fee increase money, assess transportation projects and update the county liquid fuels application process.
Senior transportation planner Mike Bloom presented the board on Tuesday with the findings and recommended a five-year plan using the county’s three sources of funding available to address transportation infrastructure needs.
The liquid fuels program is the longest-running source of revenue for the projects. Since 1988, the county has awarded about $6 million to municipalities throughout the county, according to Bloom.
Each year, the county sends letters to the 35 municipalities asking for project requests and following a needs-based assessment process. Bloom said $200,000 of liquid fuels money is allocated to various projects. As part of the five-year plan, the application process will be streamlined with a new form that will include a safety analysis of an individual project. The county is working to make the form available online, according to Bloom.
In 2012, Act 13 was signed into law by Corbett. The bill created the Marcellus Legacy Fund, which provided money for local bridges that are on the structurally deficient list. A bridge is considered structurally deficient if one or more of the elements, such as the deck, super-structure or substructure, are deemed to be in poor condition by a licensed bridge inspector.
Act 13 provides the county with about $200,000 annually, but the money must be used to take a bridge off of the structurally deficient list. The county has 31 bridges that are either structurally deficient or nearing the designation and the county has about $400,000 of unused Act 13 funds, according to Bloom.
On Oct. 1, county residents will begin to pay the additional $5 for vehicle registration. The county projects about $500,000 per year will be generated from the increase. Bloom said one the most helpful ways the money can be used is to bridge the gap created by liquid fuels requests and allocations.
Over the past 10 years, the county has seen a gap of about $700,000 each year between the requests and the money available for allocation. The result is projects being pushed back, according to Bloom.
“This would create an opportunity to slide some additional funding in there to hopefully pick off a few of those unmet demands,” Bloom said.
By implementing the $5 vehicle registration fee increase under Act 89, the county is now permitted to apply for an additional $2 million of grant money to be used for transportation infrastructure construction projects.
Combining the potential grant money with the liquid fuels, Act 13 and Act 89 funds, the county could generate almost $7 million by the end of 2022, according to Bloom.
Commissioner Mark Higgins said the construction projects generated by the increase in revenue will stimulate the economy and create jobs.
“We have a lot of paving contractors in the county. We have cement plants in the county. We have asphalt plants in the county and we have a number of mines in the county that create road building materials,” Higgins said. “Unlike some other counties out there, we have a lot of direct and indirect jobs that would be created because we manufacture road materials here.”
The county used economic impact software to estimate the stimulus created by the transportation infrastructure investment, and for every $1 million dollars spent, 15-17 jobs will be either retained or created per year, according to Bloom.
“If you consider this a $7 million program, you’re in the ballpark of 100 jobs either created or retained by virtue of this program,” Bloom said.
The commissioners did not take action on the plan and discussions will continue over the coming weeks.