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August 14, 2020 3:45 PM, EDT

Pennsylvania Transportation Commission OKs 12-Year Investment Plan

Pennsylvania transit modesPennsylvania State Transportation Commission

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The Pennsylvania State Transportation Commission recently updated its transportation program, which outlines plans to direct billions of dollars to future infrastructure projects.

Chaired by Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian, the commission serves as board of directors for PennDOT. In addition to Gramian, the commission includes members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate and a group of appointed constituents.

The 12-Year Program, as the transportation plan is known, anticipates $64.8 billion will be available for infrastructure improvements through 2032. The commission updated the program, which considers road, bridge, transit, airport and rail needs, on Aug. 13.

State law requires PennDOT to submit an update of the plan to the commission every two years. Capital improvement projects must be listed in the 12-Year Program in order to move forward.

Over the next four years, the program anticipates the availability of $11.4 billion for state highway and bridge projects, $9.4 billion for transit, $321 million for multimodal projects, $228 million for rail freight and $138 million for aviation purposes. This funding represents money from federal, state and local sources.

“While additional investment in our large transportation network is certainly needed, PennDOT takes pride in being a responsible steward of federal, state and local dollars to help improve infrastructure across all modes,” Gramian said.

Federal money is distributed through authorization legislation such as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which expires on Sept. 30. Reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal Highway Trust Fund, which assists states with maintenance and construction projects, posted a 49% decline of receipts in May 2020 when compared with May 2019, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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The federal fuel tax, which supports the Highway Trust Fund, has stagnated at 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel and 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline since 1993.

At the state level, funding for projects depends on several sources, such as the General Fund, the Motor License Fund, the Multimodal Transportation Fund and the Public Transportation Trust Fund.

Local funding may come from municipalities, toll authorities, transit operators or private entities. According to the State Transportation Commission, these funds are often included when a federal or state match is required.

The commission also acknowledged that transportation funding involves uncertainty, especially as Pennsylvania experiences the effects of the pandemic. Reduced traffic levels brought on by the pandemic have caused a shortfall in revenue linked to fuel taxes and tolls for states across the board.

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Infrastructure and economic development are important to Pennsylvania. According to Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, nearly $500 billion in goods and services moves through the state every year.

“Investments in transportation are critical for keeping our communities connected to the global economy,” Gramian said.

The updated transportation program has been submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration for a period of review and approval. FHWA works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make sure the plan complies with air quality requirements. The agencies are meant to review and approve the program prior to Oct. 1, which is when the federal fiscal year begins.

PennDOT relied on a partnership with four rural planning organizations, 19 metropolitan planning organizations and an independent county in developing its update of the 12-Year Program. The agency also collected input from constituents through quarterly meetings and a public comment period.

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