Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Countians say, don't raise price of gas
BY KAREN SHUEY, Staff Writer
Get ready. It may soon cost more to fill up at the gas pumps.
Tom Corbett rolled out his long-awaited plan to fix Pennsylvania's crumbling roads and bridges, and that might mean higher prices for drivers.
The Republican governor on Tuesday called for changes that would generate about $5 billion over five years to address the state's transportation woes.
In his budget address, Corbett said "Transportation is the bloodstream of our economy. If it fails, our economy fails."
The plan's centerpiece involves new revenue from the oil company franchise tax, a wholesale levy at the gas station level.
The move could affect gas prices, depending on how much of the increase gets passed along to consumers. The Pennsylvania Highway Information Association has said that the move could translate to about 28 cents more per gallon at current prices.
Most area residents stopping by the Sheetz on Manheim Pike Tuesday afternoon said the plan would have devastating effects on their budgets.
"I already pay $40 to fill up my tank; for it to go up even more would be ridiculous," said Lancaster city resident Raymond Rivera. "I can hardly afford gas as it is."
Richard Alemany agreed.
"We're paying enough as it is," the city resident said. "If (the Legislature) is going to raise the price, they need to raise the minimum wage so people can afford to get to work."
Paying more to get to work was also on the mind of Melissa Troutman, who commutes from Red Lion to Lancaster.
"I'm not sure how else they could get the money to fix the roads and bridges, but higher gas prices would be a huge problem for me," she said.
Aubrey Knowles, a Lancaster Township resident, said her budget is already stretched thin.
"I've cut down on driving as much as possible; there's really nothing else I could do," she said.
Although all were opposed to raising gas prices, most agreed that something has to be done about the condition of the state's aging infrastructure.
Last year, the Corbett-appointed Transportation Funding Advisory Commission released a study that showed the average bridge in the state is 51 years old. More than 4,000 of them are now deemed structurally deficient -- the most in the country.
In rural areas, the study said, some roads have been essentially cut in half because failing bridges have been closed to traffic, interrupting emergency services and threatening public safety.
At the local level, nearly a quarter of the 715 state-owned bridges in Lancaster County are considered "structurally deficient." Nearly a third of locally owned bridges receive the same failing grade.
The funding would provide $1.2 billion to fix state-owned roads and bridges; $250 million in new revenue for mass transit; $200 million in revenue for local roads and bridges; $85 million for Pennsylvania Turnpike expansion projects; and $80 million for rail, aviation and ports.
In addition to lifting the cap on the wholesale gasoline tax, the governor would pay for the plan by lowering the liquid fuels tax over two years by 2 cents a gallon, from 12 to 10 cents.
The plan would also stretch vehicle registration renewal to every two years, rather than annually, and driver's licenses to every six years, rather than four.
James Cowhey, executive director of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, said the plan would allow the county to tackle a number of projects that have been put on hold.
"We don't know the details at this point, but based on what we do know, I think we'll be able to make some improvements to the system," he said.
Lancaster has seen a 26 percent reduction in transportation funding in the last four years.
Shawn Kaup, director of public relations at AAA Central Penn, said Corbett's proposal is a step in the right direction.
"The plan does a lot to address the decades of under-investment in the state's infrastructure," he said. "Either we pay to fix things now, or we end up paying more later."
Tom Baldrige, president of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, welcomed the governor's initiative.
Baldrige said the business group largely supports the recommendations because it sees transportation investment as vital to the local economy.
"The reality is that one way or another these projects need to be paid for," he said. "We are in a situation where additional dollars are needed just to catch up."
But just because Corbett has a plan in place, Baldrige said, it doesn't mean the problem is solved.
The governor's plan is likely to be a topic of debate in Harrisburg over the next few months.
"This is a great place to start the discussion, but the dialogue needs to continue," he said.