If only every transportation problem was a burning tanker truck

By - Last modified: May 17, 2013 at 9:32 AM

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Here is what the 22/322 bridge area looked like earlier this week. Photo/Amy Spangler
Here is what the 22/322 bridge area looked like earlier this week. Photo/Amy Spangler

I was in the shower on May 9 when my wife opened the door and said there was a major accident at the Route 22/322 and Interstate 81 interchange.

I'm pretty sure I used an expletive as I rinsed the soap from my face.

Any accident along 22/322 backs up traffic horribly in northern Dauphin County, and assuredly part of my day will be spent wasting gasoline sitting still on a road.

By afternoon rush hour, plans were made to remedy the situation. I-81 through-traffic had been diverted. As I cruised past the accident scene, PennDOT crews, engineers, contractors and surveyors were moving in cranes and construction equipment.

It took just days for Harrisburg inbound traffic to be rerouted around the damaged bridges. And inspections and repairs are taking place. PennDOT released this time-lapse video of the work yesterday.

If only every transportation infrastructure problem in Pennsylvania was addressed with the same urgency as bridges damaged by a tanker fire.

Instead, the legislature has sat constipated with the issue of transportation funding reform since before the U.S. Department of Transportation said tolling I-80 was not an option.

New governor, new legislature, and new hope for resolution. But no. Legislative leaders said they were waiting for Gov. Tom Corbett's cue. Do they need Daddy's permission? Yet, nothing aside from the P3 law was passed in the two years following the governor's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission recommendations.

Someone get Pennsylvania's government some fiber.

At least today, there are three proposals for transportation funding reform. The governor's proposal from February, the slightly different Senate Bill 1 from Republican Sen. John Rafferty (with support from the minority chair on the Transportation Committee), and now the latest from Democratic Rep. Scott Conklin.

Conklin's plan would raise $886 million through two tax proposals: $111 million through a 5-cent severance fee per 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas extracted in the state, and another $775 million by closing the so-called Delaware loophole.

"Not one penny, not one dime of that would come from you, me or any Pennsylvanian. Can Governor Corbett say the same? His plan is balanced on the backs of working, middle-class Pennsylvanians. I have never seen a governor with such disdain for working people," Conklin said in a prepared statement.

Tell me, Mr. Conklin, should Pennsylvania's 12.7 million residents (including you and I) bear no responsibility to pay for the roads we drive on? Do only Delaware-registered companies and gas drillers use our roads, bridges and transit?

In these regards, Rep. Conklin's proposal largely misses the point of transportation funding reform. The idea is to fix problems through broad-based funding solutions that reflect resident, visitor, and corporate use of our infrastructure.

Surely, the issues of the Delaware loophole and gas drilling taxes deserve rational debate, but they are not the magic pills for transportation.

Although not perfect, Corbett's and Rafferty's proposals make more sense by removing artificial caps on oil franchise taxes, allowing them to be applied to the full market value of gas and diesel sales. All motorists will pay that tax when its passed down from the wholesale dealers.

You can argue how to better spread out the pain in those proposals, but transportation reform is certainly something we all bear responsibility for.

On another level, Corbett's and Rafferty's proposals also levy billions of dollars, getting the state closer to the $3.5 billion annually needed for our infrastructure.

Pennsylvania's companies and workers would be better served by balanced, urgent, sensible transportation bills rather than legislative constipation and pre-election-year scapegoating.

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