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Business and Union Officials Call on Lawmakers to Pass Transportation Bill

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA

Labor leaders and organizations that represent businesses gathered Thursday under Pittsburgh’s Liberty Bridge, which has been weight restricted. The group is calling on the state House to pass a transportation funding plan already passed in the Senate. The consequences of doing nothing, said the group, would be disastrous for the city and the region.

“If a transportation funding bill is not passed this fall, instead of boosting investments to our roads and bridges, the state DOT will be forced to reduce highway funding levels by as much as $500 million next year,” said Rich Barcaskey, executive director of Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania.

That would result in 7,200 lost jobs for western Pennsylvania construction contractors and their suppliers, according to Barcaskey.

“Even worse, those cuts will cost the broader economy roughly 7,200 jobs since many construction workers will be unable to afford  new cars, take the family to dinner, get new clothes for school and other things,” he said.

Business leaders said the condition of the state’s roads and bridges is concerning because companies don’t want to move to a location where they’ll be unable to reliably get goods to and from their facilities.

“There’s a buzz worldwide about Pittsburgh right now, and we need to take advantage of this in order to grow our region,” said Dennis Davin, director of economic development for Allegheny County. “Transportation is incredibly important to companies when thinking about expanding or locating in our area. We will lose out on job creating opportunities and job retention opportunities due to poor highway, roadway access and conditions.”

While the economic side of the issue is critical, the labor leaders said funding road and bridge repairs in Pennsylvania is also a public safety issue.

“Our bridges must be safe for school buses, emergency vehicles, commercial vehicles and personal vehicles,” said Philip Ameris, business manager for Laborers District Council of western Pennsylvania. “Reduction in highway and bridge work has the potential to put 10,000 Pennsylvanians out of work, both union and non-union. Billions of dollars in economic losses are certain without the passage of a highway bill.”

Senate Bill 1, which passed that chamber before the legislature’s summer recess, would provide more funding for transportation through higher driver's license and vehicle registration fees, surcharges on traffic violations and the removal of the cap on a tax paid by gas stations. That last part has opponents worried that it will mean higher gas prices for consumers.

At least one opponent, Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny & Washington) is introducing a bill that would expand natural gas development on state lands with resulting revenue going into a restricted fund to be used solely for bridges.