Legislators are eyeing next week for a possible vote on transportation funding, but the state House is still crafting the proposal to address the state's aging infrastructure.
Numerous ideas are being floated in the Transportation Committee, and representatives will continue negotiating through a session break this week until there's a plan with enough support to pass, said Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, a member of the committee.
Before summer, the Senate passed a bill to eventually increase transportation spending by $2.5 billion a year. That plan failed to pass the House, where Republicans scoffed at the price tag.
Miller, who proposed an amendment to Senate Bill 1 calling to spend less than $1 billion, said he can't support a bill that's $2.5 billion.
"But there are some numbers south of that that I can," he said.
Prevailing wage issue: Topics in the mix include mass transit improvements provisions to change the state's prevailing wage law, under which contractors are paid more for government jobs than for private jobs.
Opponents say prevailing wage drives up the cost of public projects, while proponents argue it ensures fair wages for competent worker.
Miller said he'd like to see some prevailing wage reform, and he thinks it would help to sell a costly infrastructure improvement package to members with spending concerns.
"I wouldn't make (the bill) contingent on it, but I think it helps us to pass the bill," he
said. "I do think we have a real shot at getting it done."
Other views: Democrats are reminding Republican House leaders they'd like to be included in the discussion, as their votes could determine whether a package or which package garners enough votes to pass.
Some Democrats have said changing prevailing wage is a non-starter, but Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said he'd weigh any bill based on its individual merits.
The package passed down for a vote should ensure the state, one of the country's worst-rated for its infrastructure, can remain safe and competitive, he said.
While it might not be immediately possible, the Legislature needs to start planning improvements farther into the future instead just putting out fires, he said.
"We would like longer-term strategic visions instead of just adding lanes to (Interstate) 83," he said. "We need to focus on passenger rail and connecting with the rest of the state."
Right now, though, there are immediate needs, he said.
"We need to focus on bridges and highways and mass transit," he said. "It's clear we have a lot of bridges in the Commonwealth and we're concerned about those, especially some which now have new weight restrictions."
After legislators failed to strike a deal on improvements, the state's Department of Transportation announced new weight restrictions on about 1,000 bridges statewide, 21 of which were state and locally owned bridges in York. The county has 36 structurally deficient bridges.
Aging roads: Gov. Tom Corbett, whose $1.8 billion plan also failed, has said he's eager to sign a plan as the state ranks among the nation's worst for aging infrastructure.
Spokesman Steve Chizmar said Corbett is working hard with legislature to develop a plan that "makes sense for all of PA," comprehensively addressing aging roads, bridges, and mass transit systems.
"He's committed to signing whatever legislation provides that solution," Chizmar said.
State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch has warned that more bridges might get weight restrictions in the coming months and that damage to the state's economy is growing.
A representative of the coal industry told him in recent days that bridge postings were driving up coal by $10 ton, making the product too expensive to compete on the world market, Schoch said.
"It's something that if it doesn't get done, it really is going to be difficult for everyone to come out of this and suggest that anyone looks good in this," Schoch said. "This is a basic responsibility of government and as you can see there are significant consequences in not moving forward."
-- The Associated Press contrib uted to this story. Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.