OP-ED: Senseless Inaction on Pa’s Transportation Disorder | Op-Ed
The story has often been told of an intellectually deprived Pennsylvania legislature forcing the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission into deep debt to help fund public transit in that commonwealth.
The result has been toll increases from year to year to cover this debt. And although the annual obligation has been reduced in recent times – from $450 million to $50 million (through 2057) – the debt remains massive, as a new analysis from the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy reports. .
“According to the last full annual financial report… the amount of principal debt outstanding to the (Turnpike Commission) was $14.31 billion, as of May 31, 2021,” notes Frank Gamrat, executive director of the Pittsburgh think tank ( in Policy Brief Vol 22, No. 3).
“This represents an increase of more than 760% since the adoption of Law 44 of 2007,” he says. It was legislative chicanery that, let’s be honest, codified the intra-agency five fingers and was a major player in the commission’s financial struggles.
And that’s even though the Turnpike Commission has taken steps to cut costs, most notably with its decision to make all toll collections electronic.
However, the same cannot be said for at least one of the transit agencies that has come to depend on debt-fueled largesse from the toll highway to fund its operations. That would be the Allegheny County Port Authority.
“No serious consideration was given to reducing costs or improving efficiency in the way transport is provided,” recalls Gamrat, who holds a doctorate. economist.
“Numerous policy briefs (from the Allegheny Institute) have documented the costly Port Authority…receiving a large allocation of state funding, but nothing has been done in this area to reduce the programs of wacky compensation system,” he says.
And, we should note, the addition of employees at a time when ridership has plummeted largely due to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic – but it’s unclear when or even if the “normal” traffic might never return.
To wit, the Port Authority didn’t lay off any employees during the pandemic, but added 32 jobs — 27 administrative — primarily to implement the agency’s questionable $3.8 billion, 25-year strategic plan called Netransit.
One of the projects would extend the light rail system near the North Side and up to the North Hills. Never mind that the authority has no secure funding to do so, and never mind that light rail remains the least efficient means of moving the public in all but the densest urban settings.
It is a charade that is not sustainable. Yet public money, even borrowed and threatening another mode of transport, continues to be thrown at the Port Authority.
“And now, almost 15 years after the failed attempt to fix transport funding through Bill 44, the Commonwealth is back with the same problem,” says Gamrat. “The latest proposed solutions consist of taxing vehicles per kilometer traveled and tolling interstate bridges to finance their replacement.
“Yet there is still no discussion about costs and effectiveness,” he laments.
And the definition of insanity is?
Colin McNickle is director of communications and marketing at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy ([email protected]).