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Development & Transportation

PennDOT Chief: Higher Driver Cost vs. Worse Roads

Pennsylvania's top transportation official said if the state adopts recent recommendations for funding its worn-out roads and bridges, it will raise costs for drivers. But, he said that's not necessarily worse than the alternative.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said the suggestions from the governor's Transportation Funding Advisory Committee range from increased fees for drivers to taking the cap off of the state's Oil Franchise Tax. He said no matter which recommendations are adopted by the legislature, the public will probably see an increased cost to driving.

That doesn't initially sound appealing, but Schoch said realistically, the state can charge the public for transportation in two ways.

"Either we charge you enough to fix the problems, or we don't charge you enough, and then you have to deal with closed or weight-restricted bridges, or congestion," said Schoch. "And that way, we're charging you also, perhaps to detour around a bridge. Right now, we have 50 bridges that are closed in the state and over 600 that are weight-restricted. The average detour length is eight miles, so if you're driving around that bridge you're using additional gasoline."

Schoch said it's questionable whether lawmakers will even reach the transportation funding discussion this fall, as other issues like redistricting and a Marcellus Shale impact fee are sure to consume time.

Chad Amond, President of the Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce, said he agrees Pennsylvanians must start paying more to maintain a healthy road system.

"If these [TFAC] recommendations are acted upon, there's no doubt that we will all feel some pain," said Amond. "And quite frankly, from the perspective of our organization, we should, and it's fair pain to take on."

Schoch said both state and federal funding must soon be greater and more steady than it has been in recent years, since projects are planned years in advance and Pennsylvania's infrastructure is deteriorating.