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OPED: Let's make progress balancing transportation, police needs
State government faces many tough choices as it works very hard to strike a balance between meeting critical needs and keeping the burden on taxpayers as fair as possible. One such tough balancing act involves addressing law enforcement needs across the state and keeping our highway and bridge system in the best shape possible.
Pennsylvania is rare among the 50 states in having a dedicated transportation source, the Motor License Fund. Fuel taxes and driver and vehicle licensing fees are deposited into the fund, and only highway and bridge-related expenses plus administrative overhead and the state police cost of maintaining safety on the system can come out of the fund.
A far-reaching bipartisan agreement in 2013 produced Act 89, which generated additional revenue to meet the huge backlog of bridge and pavement work that needs to be done. But at the same time, law enforcement costs have risen dramatically, meaning less than expected is available to address the highway and bridge needs.
Gov. Tom Wolf and I believe we need to reform the system to address these two essential functions of government constantly competing against one another for resources.
One huge factor driving up the law enforcement costs is the decision by nearly 1,300 municipalities to not provide a local police force and instead rely only on the state police. In his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Wolf included a common-sense step to bring some equity back into this equation: asking local governments who do not provide local police to pay a nominal per capita fee to offset the cost of this decision.
This amount is far less than the cost of maintaining a local police department but allows the state to devote more resources to the highway and bridge system. Approximately 80 percent of Pennsylvania’s population has and pays for a local police force of some level.
In the coming fiscal year, this proposal would mean an additional $63 million for highway and bridge work. I have developed a long-range plan to tap these resources to address long-standing maintenance needs, especially on low-volume rural roads. With other steps Wolf and the Legislature took last year to balance demands on the Motor License Fund, PennDOT expects to have an additional $2.1 billion for highways and bridges over the next decade.
Our newest program, Road MaP, which stands for Maintenance and Preservation, will allocate $1 billion over the 10-year period for improved basic maintenance at the county level; an additional $500 million to our existing interstate preservation program, bringing that 10-year program to $1 billion; and $600 million will go toward highway and bridge capital projects, with priority given to rehabilitation and reconstruction needs identified through our district and regional planning efforts.
In addition, PennDOT Road MaP will bring a new emphasis on pavement improvements to the secondary, lower-volume road network. One way PennDOT will accomplish this is by expanding the use of recycled asphalt taken from improvement projects.
This will be accomplished by several means, ranging from full-depth recycling of the existing pavement structure to overlays with cold recycled asphalt and warm mix asphalt containing a high percentage of recycled material. PennDOT is expanding these best practices and environmentally friendly ways of reusing asphalt in counties to Armstrong and Monroe counties this year, with more counties added next year.
— Leslie S. Richards is the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.