State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, has been reappointed as Democratic chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, a worthy position in its own right, but when coupled with the new Republican chairman of the same committee, bodes well for the region.
The House Republican chairman for the same committee is Dick Hess, a veteran representative from Bedford County, replacing longtime Chairman Rick Geist, of Altoona, who lost his re-election bid.
These state level transportation power brokers, coupled with last month’s tapping of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, creates a trio that Wozniak thinks will benefit the region and the state.
“Things are really lining up for us,” Wozniak said.
A fourth element, which will help in negotiations when it comes to dollars and projects, will be the naming of John Rafferty as Republican chairman of the state Senate Transportaion Committee.
Rafferty, representing Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties, was a classmate of Wozniak’s at UPJ and they are members of the same college fraternity.
“But we’re all waiting with bated breath to see what Gov. (Tom) Corbett is going to say in his state of the union address. He’s made some indications regarding revenue for transportation,” Wozniak said.
In recent years, a flat level of revenue has done little to address a need for investments in bridges, highways and all forms of mass transit, Wozniak said.
Transportation industry and many elected officials are hoping Corbett will be willing to look at ways to increase revenue while being able to maintain his pledge not to increase taxes.
Hikes in registration and driver license fees will not meet the need, while raising the cap on the oil company franchise tax, a fee levied on all liquid fuels, would make a marked improvement in revenue, he said.
Increased funding is key to getting much-needed improvements to Route 56 east and west and Route 219 north of Ebensburg, but his role is not magic, he cautioned.
“Just because I’m chairman of transportation doesn’t mean I can wiggle my hands and build roads,” he said.
The two-year term is Wozniak’s second as chairman of the powerful transportation committee.
“Back then we thought it would be only a few months until we were considering a comprehensive transportation funding plan to make up for years of indecision,” he said.
“It’s disappointing that the session ended without a proposal from the administration more than a year after the Transportation Funding Advisory Committee made its recommendations.”
The committee of about two dozen hand-picked transportation experts across the state studied the current revenue sources, potential for tapping other sources and reported back in mid-2010 with recommendations, including increased fees, action on the oil franchise tax and removing the state police from PennDOT’s budget.
When more revenue becomes available, Wozniak said, he wants to be ready with a comprehensive plan that not only addresses highway, bridge and mass transportation needs, but serves as a catalyst for creating not only construction jobs, but permanent economic improvement.
“It’s not about just filling potholes. I’m tired of those trucker magazines saying Pennsylvania has the worst highways in the nation,” he said.
One look around the country and it’s clear transportation systems are the beginning of strong economic development, the senator said.
“Everything builds along the transportation system. That was true 200 years ago, it’s true today and it will be true 200 years from now,” Wozniak said.
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