Transportation crisis threatened

| 29 Sep 2011 | 09:22

But Pike wasn’t told MILFORD - Word went out from Harrisburg and regional offices last week of an impending crisis in transportation funding, but local officials say nobody told Pike County about it. PennDOT e-mails on Aug. 25 carried red highlighted text to publicize an upcoming Sept. 14 “listening session,” in Scranton. “Public input will be crucial to the success of our mission,” was the quote from PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler. The mission in question is the finalization of a report to Governor Rendell and the Legislature titled, “Investing in Our Future: Addressing Pennsylvania’s Transportation Funding Crisis.” Biehler chairs the special commission which was created by Rendell last year and ordered to report by Nov. 15 of this year. Their preliminary report, available on line at PennDOT’s Web site, paints a frightening picture, employing the word “crisis” 10 times in the first three pages. It warns in its introduction that if the state’s financial issues are not solved, “this crisis will result in major service reductions across the Commonwealth.” Before completing a final report, the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding Reform Commission has scheduled six public input sessions across the state between from Sept. 11 to 18. So, with all this on the line, did the word get out to those who would be impacted? Pike Commissioner Richard Caridi has had an occasional run-in with and has been a watchdog of PennDOT in past. Contacted later last Friday, Caridi expressed surprise and said he’d seen nothing about the issue or the public meeting. County Planner Mike Mrozinski, whose job includes keeping tabs on PennDOT issues as the county completes an update of its comprehensive plan, said Wednesday that was aware of the ongoing commission study. However, he’d heard nothing of the impending meeting before being questioned about by the Courier. “Maybe they should add the counties to their email list,” said Mrozinski. Whose crisis is it, anyway? A closer look at the preliminary report reveals that the deepest crisis and the hardest numbers to support it lay in the state’s urban transist systems. Most of the first 14 pages of the 28 page document are devoted to mass transit issues. The report’s highway and bridge discussion covers seven pages. Increased fuel and personnel related costs coupled with considerable losses in federal supports and the failure of the state’s effort to create dedicated transit funding are blamed. The loss of “stop-gap” funding at the end of this year appears to be among primary concerns. County officials in past have charged PennDOT’s shift of resources to cover the growing transit problem has contributed to reduced snow and ice removal services. The agency has denied these charges. Mrozinski said Pike’s growth rate, number one among all Pa. counties, makes transportation a very big issue. “As a growing community, infrastructure and transportation are the most noticeable red flags—when people are waiting in traffic and there are persistent winter snow and ice clearing problems—you see it.”. “People expect the roads to be maintained to a ‘T’, but PennDOT’s policy is that they be passable,” Mrozinski said. Highways and bridges in question The report says the state’s “highway and bridge system has been sustained through preventive maintenance investments, but much of the network is approaching the point where more significant rehabilitation or replacement will be required.” Mrozinski said that is apparent that growing communites will have more traffic and that improvements to existing highways will have to be considered. “PennDOT is just going to have to find ways to make their money go farther,” he said. The commission reports: • PennDOT’s staffing has fallen to 12,000 from 20,000 in 1973. • Twenty-three percent of the state’s more than 25,000 bridges are structurally deficient and of these, more than 57-percent are at least 40 years old. • Focusing investment on high-volume highways has left insufficient resources to address critical needs on the some 21,000 miles of secondary roads, 35-pecent of which are rated “poor.”. What to do about itThe commission has suggested a chinese menu, three-choice approach to road repairs. They say an additional $536 million is required simply to preserve the system, $1 billion is needed to make incremental improvements and $1.4 billion for “Improved Mobility.” Some primary suggested means to pay for it include sales tax and a corporate income tax. The commission’s input session in Scranton will run from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. To schedule a time to speak at one of the sessions, call 717- 214-7700. View the entire plan at