Almost a half-trillion dollars worth of goods and services travels through Pennsylvania in a given year, and three-quarters of it moves by truck.
This is our link to the American economy, and much of it begins on the loading docks of our factories, farms and small businesses.
We cannot risk that commerce, the wealth it confers and the jobs it creates, to a failing transportation system. But for nearly two decades, that is what we have been doing, by neglecting a system that has not received proper funding since 1997.
That is the entire point behind Gov. Tom Corbett’s transportation proposal.
Through a combination of streamlined services and new revenues to build roads, repair bridges and bolster mass transit, the Corbett proposal will ensure job creation right now, without passing on a legacy of cost and delay to future generations. Transportation and employment in Pennsylvania have been linked since the day canal boats and rail cars moved pioneers and their goods across our fields and mountains.
Right now, Pennsylvania is within a day’s drive of 60 percent of the American population. We need to speed that travel by rebuilding our roads and repairing the 4,000 bridges that are now structurally deficient.
Under the governor’s proposal, the state would raise additional dollars by removing an artificial cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax.
When I chaired the governor’s Transportation Funding Advisory Committee, this was one recommendation we put forward in our search for ways of generating revenue that did not unduly burden Pennsylvania motorists.
Under the governor’s proposal, the commonwealth would close a loophole that capped the tax on the wholesale price of gas at $1.25 a gallon. When that tax was first set, nobody expected gas to rise above $1.25. This is not an increase in any tax rate and, given the fact that 70 percent of the price of a gallon of gas is based on the cost for a barrel of oil, it is unlikely to have a significant pass-on cost to motorists.
To that end, the governor proposes a 17 percent reduction in the “flat” motor fuels tax paid directly at the pump by motorists.
What we get for that additional $1.85 billion is a burst of economic development.
As it now stands, a sagging construction industry would shed 12,000 good-paying jobs. With the new infusion of investment in our roads and bridges, that job loss would be reversed into a 50,000 job gain, with additional revenue flowing into communities, small businesses and the tax coffers of school districts.
We also plan to set aside $250 million to bolster mass transit. Public transportation has the double effect of providing easy movement throughout our cities while reducing congestion and wear on roads.
This past summer, the Port Authority in Pittsburgh came close to cutting 40 percent of its routes because of a funding gap. By wrapping transit into our overall transportation solution, our transit authorities will no longer have to move from crisis-to-crisis each year.
Another $200 million would also be set aside to help local communities with their roads, and still another component allows communities to “bundle” bridge repair and replacement projects in a way that reduces overhead and allows for faster completion of projects.
The governor’s proposal also includes increased efficiencies at the state level and added convenience for motorists.
For instance, we are combining air, port and rail divisions into a single, multi-modal department to be run by a single deputy.
We are also switching from a yearly system of auto registration to every other year, with no increase in the yearly fee. And we’re doing away with those annoying registration stickers that have been piling up – and peeling off – license plates.
Driver licenses will be valid for six years instead of four. That might be cause for more people to smile for their license photos.
Our roads and transit systems don’t belong to any single party or faction. Bringing them up to world standard is going to take hard work by everybody. The proposal Corbett has just unveiled draws on our imagination and civic pride, and the belief that the roads we leave to our children and theirs must all lead to a prosperous tomorrow.
A professional engineer, Barry Schoch is Pennsylvania secretary of Transportation.