For years, state lawmakers, transportation advocates, riders and drivers have been waiting for Gov. Tom Corbett and the GOP-controlled state legislature to pass a comprehensive transportation-funding package. They failed to do so last term, and all eyes this fall are trained on legislators as they are once again expected to work on passing a bill. On Aug. 29, a coalition of labor and business leaders gathered under the Liberty Bridge — which has been hindered by a weight restriction imposed by PennDOT due to a lack of funding for maintenance. The group painted a grim picture: an estimated $500 million less for highway funding next year; a loss of 1,400 construction jobs in Pittsburgh; and at least 7,200 lost jobs for contractors statewide.
At the rally, City Paper spoke with Richard Barcaskey, executive director of the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania, who says the coalition wants to "exhibit unified support" for the General Assembly to take action.
Everyone seems to agree that a new transportation-funding package is necessary. Why haven't we seen one pass yet?
Political courage. ... Nobody disagrees — well, most people don't disagree — there's a need for an additional investment. What they disagree with is: How do you get [it]? And how you do that is: You increase user fees. There's a fear the public's going to respond negatively to increased user fees, but the point here is the public is going to respond negatively when [weight limits] on bridges are posted, when goods can't get to them, when they have to take detours. ... The public's going to be inconvenienced.
Despite a consensus that this bill should happen in the fall, some state leaders say that the 2014 primary election and the Republican no-tax pledge could push it back again. Is that a concern?
There are a lot of issues that are out there that cause a divide. ... One of the issues that doesn't — or shouldn't — is roads, bridges and transit. Somebody said there are no Democratic roads and no Republican roads, and I think that's what you see from the Senate: They passed [a transportation-funding package].
There's the age-old argument that seems to be playing out here, that roads and bridges are a rural issue, while rural lawmakers are stating publicly that they don't want to subsidize mass transit in urban areas. How does the debate move past those points?
I'm not sure it does, but that's why we call for a comprehensive transportation-funding plan ... that's multimodal. It's roads, it's bridges, it's transit, it's airport. All in one. ... It doesn't do anybody service to pit one against the other.