By Tony Romeo
HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) — Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett will put his signature on the biggest legislative achievement of his tenure Monday morning — a bill to raise major new funding for roads, bridges and mass transit.
After the state House passed and sent the much-debated transportation bill to the governor’s desk, PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch talked about some of the road projects for southeastern Pennsylvania…
“We have huge investments in southeastern Pennsylvania on Route 1, Route 322, 422 project,” Schoch said. “All these projects have been slow developing.”
Once the additional money starts flowing in, one of the biggest transportation priorities will be to address the thousands of structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania. This past summer, about a thousand bridges had new or additional weight restrictions placed on them to extend their lives. And Schoch said it’ll take a while before those restrictions are relaxed.
“Our policy is when we’re two years from the start of construction, weight restrictions come down,” he said. “So certainly, some of those weight restrictions come down a lot sooner than they would have had we not received funding. Maybe as early as three or four months if we get the design progressed far enough that we know construction can start.”
But Schoch said PennDOT can’t focus exclusively on bridges that are already weight restricted. He said work will also have be done on thousands of other bridges to keep them from becoming weight restricted.
When fully implemented over several years, the transportation funding plan will raise more than $2 billion a year, including half a billion for mass transit.
“Great things for SEPTA. At our board meeting we discussed $420 million worth of projects that are ready to go,” said SEPTA chairman Pat Deon. “So these projects are going to start with replacing of bridges, replacing of equipment, our substations, stuff that make the system run every day.”
Also rolled into the bill is language that opens the door to a 70 mile an hour speed limit in Pennsylvania. But Eric Bugaile, executive director of the House Transportation Committee, said the big 7-0 is still several months off. For one thing, a study will have to be done for each stretch of the road for which the new maximum speed limit is proposed.
“They haven’t even started to make any of the signs to do that,” Bugaile said. “They would have to do the study. Then the secretary would have to review the study.”
While the PennDOT secretary will have discretion for most roads, the Turnpike Commission will determine which of any parts of that system qualify for the 70 mile an hour limit.
And the bill becoming law is chock full of other surprises. For example, currently, if you’re caught driving without insurance, it’s a $300 fine and a 90-day registration suspension. But now, Bugaile said, you’ll be able to skip the suspension if you feel like forking over another $500.
“It’s an option,” he said. “And you certainly could sit out and have the suspension for the 90 days, or you could pay the $500 to be able to drive.”
That little wrinkle in the transportation bill is expected to raise about $7 million dollars a year for mass transit.