State transportation issues should be priority

Purported optimism about prospects for Pennsylvania General Assembly passage of comprehensive transportation legislation in October disintegrated as the Legislature pushed back the issue until this month.

Now, with so much attention having shifted to expanding the commonwealth’s gambling menu, and with less than two weeks remaining on the November calendar, state residents have cause to wonder whether new transportation-funding approval is possible by the end of the year.

That’s despite a spate of optimism in the House of Representatives late last week.

Even if the House were to pass legislation this week, which now appears to be a long shot after Monday night’s votes, there’s no guarantee that the Senate would quickly concur.

More than gambling, transportation funding needs to be addressed to pave the way for preparations for the 2014 construction season.

Much additional road and bridge work that could have been accomplished during the construction season that’s now winding down has remained undone, thanks to the Legislature’s inability to produce the necessary legislation during the early months of this year.

On the transportation front, legislative leaders have shown themselves to be weak and ineffective – a disgrace to what should be the commonwealth’s goal to excel, both for the benefit of residents and visitors.

Gov. Tom Corbett and his three most recent predecessors, in a strongly worded statement on Saturday, appealed to lawmakers to end their deadlock over the transportation issue.

Transportation legislation has remained elusive despite 9,000 miles of deficient roads, 4,500 substandard bridges and transit systems that are badly in need of financial help.

As lawmakers have procrastinated, seemingly likening legislative compromise to poison, the deterioration and financial issues have become worse.

Meanwhile, the prospect exists for the loss of 12,000 jobs emanating from the lack of transportation action, while 25,000 additional jobs could be created with each $1 billion of new investment, says state Secretary of Transportation Barry J. Schoch.

Issues brought to the forefront in recent weeks by lawmakers, such as the concerns about prevailing wages, should have been resolved many months ago, well before the start of the current fiscal year on July 1.

Instead, lawmakers muddled along as PennDOT found it necessary to lower the weight limits on many bridges and, in some cases, close them.

In a memo to newspaper editors across the state, Schoch correctly pointed out that “a safe, reliable and convenient transportation system is not a luxury – it’s a core responsibility of government.”

While some lawmakers might not agree that the state needs a multimodal solution to the highway-funding issue exactly like the one Corbett proposed earlier this year, the General Assembly should by now have been capable of assembling a transportation measure meeting the governor’s and its own objectives.

The inability to do so delivers a damning message regarding the leadership that has been charged with guiding transportation legislation through the House and Senate.

Pennsylvania deserves better – just like the state’s highways, bridges and transit systems.

The Legislature should stop gambling with the well-being of Pennsylvania’s infrastructure.