Transportation talk sprinkled with trash talk

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

The state House Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing in Pittsburgh on transportation funding on Wednesday, using the opportunity to criticize Gov. Tom Corbett’s recent proposal as being too small.

The thrust of the commentary from lawmakers and other interested parties was that a state commission saw a need for $3.5 billion in additional annual spending; the governor’s own advisory panel recommended $2.5 billion in new revenue measures; but Mr. Corbett pulled up short with a plan that takes five years to bring in $1.8 billion in new annual revenue, with only $500 million in the first year.

“The governor has given us half a loaf,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill.

In an earlier meeting with Post-Gazette editors, Mr. Frankel said the governor’s allegiance to anti-tax thumper Grover Norquist is holding him back.

The Democrats want to implement all of the September 2011 recommendations of the governor’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, including increases of vehicle registration and license fees, which haven’t been raised since 1997.

“That commission was supposed to give him cover so he could walk through the door,” said Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster. “All the doors were flung open and he ran for the back door.”

Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mount Washington, said her constituents are ready to pay more to upgrade the state’s transportation system.

Back at the hearing, Ken Zapinski, senior vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, addressed the squeamishness of elected officials to raise taxes and fees:

“I understand the challenge of having to explain to the general public the necessity of paying more to keep our transportation system working. And I recognize that some people will never be persuaded. But everyone will pay one way or another. The inescapable truth is that steel rusts and concrete crumbles and buses wear out. You have to invest at the right time, or you risk losing everything.”

Joe Pass, attorney for Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Port Authority workers, said a failure to provide a dedicated, reliable funding source for transit will quickly bring back the threat of crippling service cuts like the 35 percent reduction that was narrowly averted last year.

“If things aren’t done by the end of August, all the cuts we talked about previously are coming back on the table.”

The governor’s proposal allocates just $40 million of the the $500 million in first-year new revenue to transit, of which the Port Authority’s share would be about $8 million.

“That ain’t gonna do it,” Mr. Pass said.

One final thought: There’s a fine line between forceful advocacy and destructive rhetoric. Passing a transportation bill is going to require bipartisanship, and some of the commentary from Democrats thus far has been strikingly harsh. Smacking someone upside the head is not a good way to start an important conversation.

You gotta love this, from AAA: More than two-thirds (69 percent) of licensed drivers reported talking on a cell phone while driving within the last month despite the fact that 89 percent believe other drivers using cell phones are a threat to their personal safety.

The city will hold a pre-construction briefing for the South Highland Avenue Bridge replacement project, which is set to begin March 4. The meeting is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Calvary Episcopal Church, 315 Shady Ave.

A new traffic light has been fired up on Rochester Road at Cross Creek Road in Cranberry, paid for by the developer of Park Place. Cranberry says it now has 39 intersections controlled by signals. The newest one will be in flash mode until 10 a.m. next Thursday while people grow accustomed to it.  

The township also has a great webpage with details of all of the improvements planned along Route 228. Click here to take a look.

Every now and then we hear complaints from people who tried to board a bus between stops, only to have the driver refuse to open the door. Bear in mind that a driver who picks up or discharges passengers between stops could face disciplinary action. Should a driver risk being reprimanded or suspended because someone didn’t make it to their stop on time?

roadworkaheadIntermittent nighttime restrictions are possible on Interstate 70 at Exit 16 in Canton from March 5 to March 9, as work begins to demolish the bridge carrying Sheffield Street over the highway. Full overnight closures of I-70 are scheduled from March 11-16, with traffic detoured via off- and on-ramps. Work hours are 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The two center lanes on the inbound lower deck of the Fort Duquesne Bridge will be closed from 10 p.m. today to 2 p.m. Friday for repairs to the crash barrier at the split on the Downtown end of the bridge.

The inbound right lane of Route 28 will be closed in Aspinwall near Delafield Road (Exit 7) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. next Monday (Feb. 25) through Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced. Crews will install fencing.

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