The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Latest News

March 30, 2013

Fewer dollars for road work: In era of budget slashing, PennDOT making do with less

— A poor economy, more fuel efficient vehicles, rising costs for highway construction materials – these are all some of the reasons why little if any new construction will be done on roads and bridges across Pennsylvania this year.

Few member of the Legislature are showing much of a taste to increase taxes.

Municipal officials in Somerset and Cambria counties learned last week during PennDOT’s annual outreach sessions that there will be considerably fewer dollars for highway and bridge maintenance in the 2013 construction season than amounts available four years ago.

In Cambria County, projects in the Johnstown area are getting the lion’s share of the money. Among the projects are completion of slope stabilization along Menoher Boulevard.

Set to go to bid in 2014 is the Goucher Street safety improvement project and work on the Hickory Street Bridge.

In Somerset County, the big project will be the start of the four-lane Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale, work that is being undertaken entirely with federal funds.

State dollars will  be used to resurface Route 160 to the Cambria County line, two bridges over the Casselman River and replacement of the Quemahoning Dam Bridge.

The fewer dollars able to purchase less is the story at the state level.  

Projects bid or to be bid in 2013 will not exceed $1.7 billion, according to PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar.

Last year, that figure was $2 billion. In 2011, it was $2.2 billion.

The reduced funding comes as materials and maintenance costs are increasing, Chizmar said.

“We’re going to continue to see that number go down unless we see an increase in the bottom line,” Chizmar said. “And, that number doesn’t buy as much as it did even last year.”

Talk of the need for revenue enhancement has been around since the early 2000s. The voices grew louder in 2011 when Gov. Tom Corbett appointed a panel of professionals to identify potential funding sources.

But after the July 2011 release of the report by the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission brought no action, the voices rose a little more.

Many are looking to state leaders in the hopes that April or May could bring legislation that would remove the cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax, said to be kept artificially low.

Any boost in fees or taxes would be the first since 1997, when the state gas tax went up

10 cents per gallon at the pump.

But two local men attuned to transportation needs and funding statewide aren’t taking any bets on what may happen over the next three months.

If no action is taken to boost taxes or fees by June 30, it may been nothing will be done for the remainder of the state’s fiscal year, said state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont.

Any action likely would need to happen this year, since 2014 is an election year, and a time when members of the Legislature are likely to shy away from tax increases.

Wozniak said PennDOT is past the point of belt tightening; billions of dollars are needed to maintain the state’s bridges and highways. He is proud of the statistic showing 85 cents of every dollar in PennDOT revenue goes to pay a contractor in some form.

What he views as an urgent need for more money for all forms of transportation is not shared by everyone else, especially some Republicans.

“The Senate feels comfortable with it,” he said of removing the cap. “But I’m not so sure of the House. I don’t know if the House has the votes.”

Wozniak, Democratic chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, thinks the legislation to increase revenue will be the most important vote state leaders have taken in 15 years.

Johnstown businessman Robert Gleason, a former member of the state Transportation Commission and chairman of the Republican Party at the state level, is hopeful that as the economy improves, so will PennDOT’s coffers. Increasing taxes or fees is unlikely this year, he said.

“The governor’s plan is a great idea, but I’m not so sure the Legislature will support it,” Gleason said.

One of the biggest concerns is the cost removing the franchise cap will have at the pump.

Getting to that $1.9 billion in additional revenue which could be raised by the action means costs the oil companies will pass on to motorists.

“I don’t hear a drumbeat from the people to increase revenues,” Gleason said. “I feel the government eventually does what the people want it to.”

Current thoughts are that the current $1.25 per gallon cap, when removed, will have the tax determined by the marketplace, Wozniak said.

Estimates are that removing the cap would add 28.5 cents per gallon to the pump price – a figure that could be phased in over a period of five years or more.

“That’s a shocking number,” Wozniak said. “But what is going to make the people less happy is if a bridge falls down. We can’t make bricks without straw.”

When comparing highway conditions of today with 40 years ago when Milton Shapp was governor, things aren’t so bad, said Gleason, who recalls when it was impossible to drive from Westmont to Johnstown without hitting a multitude of potholes.

Improvements are needed, especially to save what Wozniak has seen of crumbling bridge superstructures, and more revenue is the only way to pay the tab.

Adding to the voice for enhanced revenue is the need to jump-start the economy, something that could happen with the 100,000 construction jobs that are estimated with an infusion of money, Wozniak said.

But after a quarter-century in Harrisburg, Wozniak is a realist.

“I don’t wear rose-colored glasses. It’s going to be tough,” he said of any transportation funding package.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News
  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

  • Homicides linked to center

    Three homicides that took place in Johnstown last year involved either a suspect or victim who previously resided in the Community Corrections Center.
    Police Chief Craig Foust confirmed the name of one victim, who spent almost two months in the facility on Washington Street during 2007, a time period verified by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

    April 19, 2014

  • bachota Volunteers helping to spruce up community

    Walls and ceilings inside the Cambria County Library look clean and bright with fresh new coats of paint on them.
    The work was recently done by inmates from the Johnstown Community Corrections Center.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • alanna Hartzok targets income disparity

    Alanna Hartzok described herself as being a conservative progressive.
    The Franklin County resident said she is in favor of conserving environmental resources, education opportunities, Social Security and Medicare, while wanting to progressively address wealth inequality, health care and taxation.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Schools rise to leadership challenge

    Forest Hills and Cambria Heights high school students put the spirit of healthy competition toward a good cause and picked up some lessons in leadership along the way.

    April 19, 2014

  • KATEY LADIKA Student’s photos win awards

    A Forest Hills High School junior has captured several awards in a high school arts and writing contest that has identified greats such as Truman Capote and Andy Warhol.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local briefs 4/20/2014

    April 19, 2014

  • Biggest student loan profits come from grad students

    This week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal government would earn roughly $127 billion from student lending during the next 10 years.

    April 19, 2014

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 19, 2014


Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos

Photo Slideshow

House Ads