PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch has a blunt assessment about the state’s aging transportation infrastructure and the government’s new plan to upgrade it.
“Every year we duck this issue and every year the bill becomes bigger,” Schoch said. “It doesn’t go away.”
Schoch met with reporters at PennDOT’s District 11 headquarters in Collier Township earlier this week to outline Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to uncap the state’s oil company franchise tax, which would increase the price gasoline, but would bring in billions in new revenue.
“There are a lot of questions of the cost about doing this,” Schoch said. “There’s also a cost if we don’t do anything.”
The cap on tax at the wholesale level would be lifted over five years in unison with a 2-cent cut in the state flat tax. That could add more than a quarter to a gallon of gas, although Schoch said the exact increase would fluctuate and not be completely passed on to consumers.
“If we don’t address the problem it gets more expensive or we face the prospect of closing roads and bridges,” he said.
Lifting the cap would inject $1.8 billion in new annual revenue that could be used to repair unsafe bridges, rebuilt roadways, invest in transit and construct new routes.
Some of the “hundreds of projects” Schoch envisions in the Pittsburgh area include reconstruction of I-376 near the airport and rehabilitating the Birmingham Bridge in Pittsburgh. He added that the state hopes it will be able to complete the Southern Beltway from Route 22 to Interstate 79.
PennDOT plans to launch a website that shows all the projects that would be completed over the next 10 years.
But Schoch said all of these projects would be on the backburner if new funding isn’t found. It’s not known if the state legislature, which must pass the wholesale gas tax increase, has the political will to make the change.
Other changes drivers night see are annual registration for cars would be instead every two years. PennDOT would also discontinue sending registration stickers drivers put on their license plates. A driver’s license would be renewed every six years instead of every four.
The administration’s plan would also look at ways to streamline mass transit by investigating whether merging services between counties or consolidating into regional agencies would be more productive.
“Efficiency and modernization are the hallmarks of what we’re trying to accomplish at the department,” he said.