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Transit Obligations

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Publications: On The Move . . . A Basic Guide To Transportation Planning For Citizens

Funding Issues

Money – there never seems to be enough.

  • The total cost of our transportation needs always greatly exceeds the funds we expect to
    receive.
  • The region has to set priorities, making tough choices and compromises.

Pennsylvania has special problems.

  • Pennsylvania has more miles of state highways to maintain than New York, New Jersey and all
    of New England combined.
  • Because of our hills and valleys, we have an unusually high number of bridges to maintain. More than half of them are over 45 years old.
  • On the interstate highways in Pennsylvania, 16% of the traffic is trucks.

Money – where does it come from?

  • Federal and state taxes on the sale of fuels provide most of the transportation money for southwestern Pennsylvania.
  • State fees on vehicle licenses also provide revenue.
  • The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission operates on a separate budget. Its revenues include tolls, used to maintain the turnpike system.

Money - it comes in specific categories, each with its own rules for qualifying.

  • Public transportation (buses, light rail, paratransit van services, etc.) receives “Title III” funding, broken into separate programs to support maintenance, operations, and capital improvements.
  • Highways, bridges, and other surface transportation projects receive “Title I” funding, in specific programs for highways, bridges, intermodal facilities, and Congestion Management and Air Quality (CMAQ) projects.
  • Transportation Enhancements — such as bicycle and pedestrian paths, restoration of rail depots, or other projects that enhance transportation facilities — are funded by 10% of the Surface Transportation Program monies.

Phases of project development

  • On the TIP, funding is programmed year-by-year.
  • The earliest phases may be study and preliminary engineering including environmental evaluation.
  • Next comes final design followed by purchase of right-of-way and moving utility lines, if necessary.
  • The last phase is usually construction (including implementation of programs).

Carry-over from one program to the next

  • Many projects appear on the TIP only for their initial phases.
  • A large part of the next TIP can be consumed just to finish incomplete projects started earlier.

Flexibility within the program

  • As a project progresses, cost increases may occur or sometimes the project isn’t ready for construction as soon as expected.
  • Therefore, as necessary, the TIP or Long-Range Plan can be amended between regular updates. The project sponsor (usually PennDOT or the County) proposes to move funding from one qualifying project to another. It is important not to tie up funds if a project is not ready when it was initially programmed.

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Basic funding priorities

  • Responding to federal and state guidance, SPC attempts to prioritize maintenance of the National Highway System.
  • SPC also tries to follow the principle of “finish what we started,” carrying projects to completion after initial stages have been funded.

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Competition for funding

  • Many high-visibility projects are quite costly. Complete funding of any one could consume all the funds available to that county.
  • Many needs cannot be met. Do we postpone an expensive maintenance project by doing a quick, temporary repair? Do we delay one project in order to be able to do another?
  • Priorities may be based on safety considerations, urgency of maintenance needs, or whether the transportation facility supports economic development.
  • Although there’s little room for new projects, we must keep our ears open for critical needs.
  • Innovative funding, which finds new sources of revenue, will become increasingly important. This could help advance big projects – either upgrades or new capacity – and could free up money from our regular sources for other projects.
  • Priority project needs in each county will receive a fair share of the money that’s available to the region, but negotiation and compromise must take place. Many projects benefit the whole region, beyond a single county’s boundaries, and sometimes counties decide to take turns funding major regional projects over the years.

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Who is responsible for making these tough decisions on the Long-Range Plan and TIP?

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What roles do the Congress and state legislature play?

  • Federal legislation establishes basic requirements for transportation planning. The current legislature is called FAST ACT.
  • Federal legislation may include earmark funding for specific projects. SPC works closely with the Congressional delegation from Southwestern Pennsylvania, encouraging them to earmark projects that are already partially funded in our TIP and to avoid partial funding for projects we cannot afford to complete.
  • Legislators can help us maintain existing programs and develop new sources of funding.
  • The State Transportation Commission sets policy direction regarding the state’s Twelve-Year Program, and the Pennsylvania state legislature approves it. Our TIP becomes Stage I of the Twelve-Year Program.
  • The Congress provides the appropriations to fund transportation. The House and Senate Appropriations and Transportation Committees are critical in advancing this legislation.
  • Likewise, the state legislature provides the appropriations to actually commit state funds. Appropriations and Transportation Committees in the state House and Senate advance this legislation.

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