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Will the Legislature botch an easy slam dunk?

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

One thing we should not be hearing from members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly today is how public transportation is wasteful and inefficient. The Legislature, always challenged to get anything significant done, is just days away from botching an easy slam dunk – passing a transportation bill.

Transportation traditionally is a bipartisan issue. Everyone benefits when roads are smooth, bridges are strong and safe and transit is sufficient to ease gridlock and parking shortages. And everyone suffers when poor roads destroy wheel alignments, flatten tires and jam with traffic, when bridges crumble and close, forcing detours, and when transit is inadequate and people can’t get to work or appointments or anywhere else without a car.

A good transportation network saves people money and makes the state economically competitive. A poor one causes companies to bypass Pennsylvania or leave for other locales, costing us jobs. A robust transportation improvement program also generates jobs in the construction industry.

Some legislative naysayers fret that the public can’t afford a transportation funding bill. The costliest plan out there – Senate Bill 1 – would cost the average joe (who drives 12,000 miles per year in a 24 mpg car) about $150. That’s $3 a week. For anyone with the wherewithal to own an automobile, that’s chump change.

As for those who complain about paying more to fund transit, the biggest components of Senate Bill 1 are increases in the wholesale gasoline tax and driver fees. None of that money, under the constitution, can go to transit. It’s all going to roads and bridges. If you don’t want to pay more for transit because you don’t ride it, here’s a tip: Don’t get caught speeding. Much of the new money for transit in SB 1 would come from a surcharge on traffic violations.

There is virtual unanimity among civic leaders in a broad spectrum of organizations about the need to pass a transportation bill. Dennis Yablonsky of the Allegheny Conference explains why in this op-ed piece in today’s Post-Gazette. Legislative action on this would be inexcusable, but at this writing transportation is tied up in bickering over side issues. If legislators go home without passing a bill, they can consider their own institution to be the equivalent of a transit bus with four flat tires and a driver who’s asleep at the wheel.

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roadworkaheadAs of now, no full closure of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels is planned for this weekend. The usual overnight lane closures will be in effect. The next planned weekend closure would start July 26.

An example of what happens when transportation funding is inadequate: The weight limit has been lowered to 3 tons on the Homeville Creek No. 4 bridge on Ravine Street in Munhall following an inspection, meaning that only cars are allowed to cross it. The limit was lowered from 10 tons for a single vehicle and 17 tons for combinations after an inspection, the Allegheny County Public Works Department announced. Combination traffic is now prohibited. The bridge is between Route 837 and Duquesne Road. Three tons is the lowest weight limit used for bridges; further deterioration would require it to be closed.

The right lane of Bigelow Boulevard will be closed between Sixth and Seventh avenues during wall repairs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily through Sunday.

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