Suit challenges digital billboards; Corbett backs up; turnpike honchos get new cars

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

The nonprofit Scenic America has sued seeking to force the Federal Highway Administration to ban digital billboards along federal highways.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, the anti-billboard group contends that 5-year-old guidance from the FHWA that allows the signs is in violation of the federal Highway Beautification Act.

“For over five years we have pleaded with FHWA to do the right thing and revoke the memorandum,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America, in a news release. “In every instance, they have turned a blind eye to the standards established by the Highway Beautification Act. These standards were meant to protect all citizens from the trespassing glow of digital billboards flashing commercial advertisements along high-speed roadways.

“We receive distress calls from people all over the country who find these TVs-on-a-stick lining our highways to be distracting eyesores, and in some instances the signs even shine into the windows of nearby homes,” Ms. Tracy said.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s postponement of the announcement of his transportation funding plan until his budget speech Feb. 5 means that the details, when unveiled, will compete for attention with the rest of his budget proposals. That might be to the governor’s advantage, given the reaction when a part of the plan leaked out last week.

Lifting the cap on the wholesale gasoline tax is controversial even in its best light — the tax on gasoline suppliers would eventually increase by 28.5 cents per gallon, based on current pricing — and some or all of that could trickle down to prices at the pump.

There no doubt will be a silly debate over whether it counts as a “tax increase,” violating the governor’s campaign promises (the tax rate of 153.5 mills would not change) but the real question is whether it is wise for the state to invest more in its crumbling roads, bridges and mass transit systems, or do nothing and sit by as more bridges close or get weight restrictions, potholes multiply, traffic congestion worsens and public transit systems continue to raise fares and cut service.

This is what lawmakers all over the country must deal with: a citizenry that wants better transportation infrastructure without paying for it.

Recently released results of a survey of Pennsylvania drivers by AAA show that 86 percent believe Pennsylvania’s highways and bridges should get more funding for repairs but only 44 percent are willing to pay an additional $2.50 per week (the cost of the recommendations by Mr. Corbett’s funding advisory commission.)

An interesting chart in the commission’s final report shows that the typical driver paid $13.10 per month in state gas taxes in 2010, down from $32.48 in 1970 (expressed in 2010 dollars).

The survey also found that texting while driving and red-light running are a bigger safety concern to drivers than drunken driving.

The whole enchilada can be found here.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer, some red meat for those seething about toll increases on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Just before toll rates went up this month on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, tollpayers gave Turnpike Commission Chairman William K. Lieberman a belated Christmas present: a $40,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Lieberman, a Pittsburgh insurance executive, received the 2013 Grand Cherokee on Dec. 28 to replace a 2012 Grand Cherokee that he had received a year earlier. That one cost turnpike users $38,448.
The year-old Cherokee was handed down to fellow Commissioner Pasquale “Pat” Deon, a Bucks County restaurateur and beer distributor (and SEPTA board chairman), to replace his turnpike-issued 2008 Dodge Magnum.
The other two commissioners, Carlisle lawyer Michael Pratt and former Democratic State Sen. William Lincoln of Uniontown, drive 2011 Ford Explorers that cost $33,945 each.
A free car, for personal as well as official use, is a perk of being one of four turnpike commissioners, along with a $26,000 salary ($28,500 for Lieberman as chairman), a no-limit expense account, and a free pass on all tolls.
Only Barry Schoch, the state secretary of transportation, who serves as a fifth turnpike commissioner, does not get a free car (or a turnpike salary). He uses his own vehicle, a Chrysler 300, a PennDOT spokesman said.

The full story is here.



Bridge and overhead sign inspections will cause lane closures on the Parkway West from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday between Rosslyn Farms and the Interstate 79 interchange and between the Parkway Center and Green Tree exits.

Inspection of the Route 48-Mosside Boulevard Bridge in North Versailles will cause lane closures from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The bridge crosses Turtle Creek and a railroad line.

Freeport Road in East Deer and Tarentum will be closed in both directions to allow heavy equipment movement at Fagioli Inc. from midnight to 7 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday. The closure is from Ninth Street and the C.L. Schmitt Bridge in East Deer to Conroy Way in Tarentum.

Bridge and overpass inspections next week along the Parkway West may cause lane closures and traffic shifts on structures near the parkway, but no restrictions on the parkway itself. The schedule:

Monday, Poplar Street between Fleet Street and Rhodes Avenue in Green Tree, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday, Greentree Road between Roseberry Way and Mansfield Avenue in Green Tree, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, Banksville Road near the parkway interchange, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Inspection of the Fort Duquesne Bridge will close one lane approaching the inbound lower deck on Route 65 and one approach lane from the Parkway North from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

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