Negotiations in Harrisburg over PennDOT's $600M budget shortfall continue

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Negotiations to stave off road work stoppages as early as Tuesday were still ongoing in Harrisburg on Monday afternoon between Gov. Tom Wolf and state legislators over an emergency funding request from the state Department of Transportation.

Several York County road projects hang in the balance.

Without the authorization to borrow $600 million, PennDOT officials have said hundreds of road projects across the state could go idle Tuesday. That would include the Mount Rose Avenue project on Interstate 83, which has been delayed repeatedly and has frustrated local officials for years. 

But legislative Republicans have criticized the timing of the request and said PennDOT should have addressed the shortfall while the budget was being prepared.

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, said Monday that PennDOT didn't bring this request to the Senate Appropriations Committee during budget negotiations.

"You don’t just throw in a $600 million loan after you've been sitting at this table for months," Phillips-Hill said. "That's not the way you do business."

PennDOT officials blame the COVID-19 pandemic, which included a lengthy statewide stay at home order, for a significant decline in revenue. A tax on gasoline is a key funding mechanism for PennDOT's projects. 

Construction continues at the Mount Rose Avenue, Interstate 83 junction after Governor Wolf allowed certain road project to resume work following the COVID-19 shutdown. Saturday, April 25, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees received word from PennDOT in mid-November that without a bond issue authorization, the agency would have to pause work on some road projects.

Phillips-Hill said PennDOT has since revised its bond request to $475 million.

Monday was the last day of the General Assembly's legislative session, so the pressure was on to resolve the funding dispute by the end of the day or risk having to wait until the new year.

Gov. Tom Wolf reportedly came to an agreement with legislators Monday to find a way to continue financing the PennDOT projects that were set to be paused, according to The (Allentown) Morning Call.

Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger was unavailable to confirm this.

The governor's office has stated Republicans in the state Legislature are to blame for removing language in the fiscal code draft that would have granted bonding authority to PennDOT.

Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) presents a citation in commemoration of Austin L. Grove American Legion Post 403's 100th anniversary celebration in Glen Rock, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"PennDOT has made no secret of the fact that its current revenue streams – particularly revenues from gas tax, which make up 74% of PennDOT’s highway and bridge funding – were not sufficient to support Pennsylvania’s vast network of roads and bridges," Kensinger stated earlier Monday.

The Mount Rose interchange project  has been a nuisance for residents and local legislators for years.

The $58.3 million project was initially slated to be completed by Maryland-based contractor Cherry Hill Construction in 2018, but that completion date has been pushed back twice, most recently in August when PennDOT announced the project would be done in April of next year.

Cherry Hill and PennDOT remain in a legal battle over who is to blame for the delays. The state Board of Claims has not yet ruled on the matter.

Mount Rose is not the only project in York County that would be suspended if adequate funding is not acquired.

The $29.8 million Shrewsbury Exit 4 interchange project would also be suspended. It was initially expected to be completed by next spring.

More:PennDOT cash shortage could stall Mount Rose Avenue/I-83 project

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