Opinion

Hugh Mose | End the roadblocks to transportation funding

The need for increased state investment in highways and bridges is well-documented.

For confirmation, one has only to look at the hundreds of closed and weight-restricted bridges all across the commonwealth. The collapsing storm sewers on North Atherton Street and the obsolete and overburdened segment of U.S. Route 322 east of Potters Mills are local examples of deteriorating infrastructure — proof that we are simply not keeping up.

Less obvious, perhaps, but just as profound is the need to increase state support for public transportation.

For the Centre Area Transportation Authority, the funding problems are particularly acute.

New federal transportation legislation has eliminated the ability of our elected officials in Washington to help direct mass-transit funds to our community, or for CATA itself to compete for discretionary federal grants.

Historically, this is how we have replaced our fleet and upgraded our facilities. Without increased state assistance to replace this lost funding, we will be hard-pressed to keep our facilities and buses in a state of good repair, let alone expand services to meet growing demand.

Thanks to the former federal program, in 2012 CATA was able to purchase more than two dozen new buses. However, we still have more than 30 that are beyond their expected service life.

If we are unable to secure state support for bus replacements, very soon a third of CATA’s fleet will be more than 20 years old.

Buses of all ages need adequate facilities for maintenance and storage. CATA is currently housing more than 70 buses in a garage designed for 40. We have received a substantial federal grant for facility expansion, but the project is in danger of being halted due to the lack of required matching funds.

This is a thriving and growing community, and the need for public transportation continues to increase. New student-housing complexes require more transit service; the development of areas of the community that didn’t even exist several years ago — the new medical facilities at Gray’s Woods and the new commercial areas on the Benner Pike, just to name two — continually stretch CATA’s resources; and the shift of affordable workforce housing away from the Centre Region increases the need for long-distance commute options.

Senate Bill 1, which was introduced in May, was a significant step toward the restoration of Pennsylvania’s roads, highways, bridges and mass-transit systems. We were deeply disappointed when, at the end of June, the House of Representatives was not able to respond with a version that would increase transportation funding to an acceptable level.

The legislation was not by any means a perfect solution for CATA. The bill would slow the rate of growth in state support for expanding transit systems such as ours; eliminate the provision in current legislation that directs more than $1 million annually to CATA for the purchase of capital equipment in favor of a program in which CATA would compete with the other small transit systems in the commonwealth; and gradually increase local matching requirements.

In spite of these imperfections, we at CATA support Senate Bill 1 as originally introduced.

Even though CATA’s funding may not grow as fast as it would have under current legislation, we should still be able to address the most pressing transit needs of our growing community.

Equally important, passage of the bill should allow PennDOT to fulfill its commitment of funds for the expansion of CATA’s bus maintenance facility. Taking the longer view, we are confident that our elected officials in Harrisburg and the administrators at PennDOT will work with us to address CATA’s bus replacement needs.

We thank Gov. Tom Corbett for taking the lead earlier this year in bringing forward a transportation funding proposal and the Senate for passing Senate Bill 1 — overwhelmingly and with bipartisan support.

We applaud Sen. Jake Corman and Rep. Mike Hanna, who have in the past introduced legislation to increase transportation funding, and Reps. Kerry Benninghoff and Scott Conklin, who clearly understand the importance of addressing the backlog of highway and transit needs.

With the General Assembly now back in session, it is imperative that the Senate and the House come together in support of a comprehensive, multi-modal transportation solution that provides an adequate, dedicated, predictable and growing source of funding for roads, highways, bridges and public transportation.

At a minimum, the bill must grow state transportation funding to the $2.5 billion level recommended by the governor’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission and included in Senate Bill 1.

The residents of Pennsylvania deserve nothing less.

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