Official defends Rendell's record on highway issues

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:08

    HARRISBURG - His transnportation seretary says the governor loves bridges and roads. Secretary of Transportation Allen D. Biehler, P.E., has taken exception to statements by two lawmakers that he says inaccurately characterize Governor Ed Rendell’s commitment to maintaining a safe and efficient transportation system “From the start, this administration’s record on transportation shows a strong commitment to efficient management and close attention to preserving highways, bridges and transit statewide,” Biehler said. Responding to recent attacks by Representatives Ronald Marsico and Glenn Grell, both from the Harrisburg region, Secretary Biehler said Governor Rendell, in his first year, increased investments in bridges and that commitment has grown to unprecedented levels. Moreover, when the Governor was forced to rely on an unexpected pool of federal dollars to help public transit avoid severe service disruptions and steep fare increases, his plan distributed aid to 16 transit agencies in 24 counties, serving 65 percent of the state’s population. “The Governor’s record is clear,” Secretary Biehler said. “Under his direction, transportation improvements have reached every corner of the state.” Recently, Representative Marsico, in a press release, accused the Governor of being late to realize the state had a bridge maintenance problem. In his newsletter to constituents, Representative Grell accused the Governor of taking $14.8 million in highway funds from the Harrisburg region and sending them to Philadelphia mass transit. Pike County officials have made similar charges regarding reduced PennDOT staffing for winter highway snow and ice removal services. Biehler addressed the state legislators charges saying “Both of these lawmakers are incorrect and are misstating the facts.” Spending on bridges climbed 35 percent between 2003 and 2005, rising from $317 million to $427 million. The number of bridges seeing improvements more than doubled, from 311 to 666. In 2004, Governor Rendell started a new bridge preservation program to spread remedial work to as many bridges as possible. Another improvement measure, pavement smoothness, has steadily improved during the Rendell administration. The measure, known as the International Roughness Index, shows pavement condition by inches a vehicle moves up and down over a mile of pavement. The lower the number, the better. A reading of between 70 and 100 is considered good on the interstate system. Pennsylvania’s median IRI interstate number improved from 86 to 84 between 2003 and 2004. Similar improvements were seen on other categories of state-maintained roads in Pennsylvania. Additionally, Governor Rendell has called for an additional $130 million in the coming fiscal year for smoother roads and bridge preservation programs and an emergency fund for highways and bridges. The additional money is coming from internal PennDOT savings and an unspent balance in a fund to pay legal claims against the agency. While his transit-flexing plan delivered aid to public transit agencies across the state, Governor Rendell has repeatedly asked the Legislature to work with him on other options so flexing could be avoided. So far, Reps. Marsico, Grell and the rest of the Legislature have refused to act on the Governor’s request. When the Governor announced his flexing plan, he also released an additional $530 million for highways and bridges. The Harrisburg region received an extra $23 million for highways and bridges. “By any measure, transportation under Governor Rendell is reaching new levels of quality,” Secretary Biehler said. “It’s important the people of Pennsylvania receive an accurate picture of the Governor’s record.”