Friday, September 08, 2006

Pennsylvania's Regional Transportation Commission

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Puget Sound region is, of course, not the only one in the nation wrestling with transportation funding and governance issues. Washington State's Regional Transportation Commission may be able to gain some valuable insights from a similar effort that has been underway in Pennsylvania since last year.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell formed the Transportation Funding and Reform Commission, a bipartisan group of nine commissioners, last February in the aftermath of financial crises at the Port Authority and Philadelphia-based Southwestern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. The commission was charged with assessing the magnitude of the transportation funding crisis and identifying reform measures and funding sources for current and future needs of both highways and transit. Its purview was expanded to other elements of the transportation network--including highways, bridges and capital improvement programs.

The interim report recently released by the Commission does not recommend specific sources of new funding; rather, the 25-page report outlines factors and problems leading to the crisis, suggests reforms and proposes three "investment levels" to address the problems.

Commissioners have developed a set of principles to guide their recommendations:
While the state cannot be the only source of transportation financing, it must fund the core transit, highway and bridge systems and work to keep them in a state of good repair;
  1. Efficiencies should be rewarded with straightforward, market-based financial incentives embedded in the public funding system;
  2. Local municipalities must have more flexibility and incentives;
  3. Financing at the regional and local levels should be encouraged;
  4. State funding should reward smart planning that integrates transportation, land use and economic development.

The Commission will hold a series of statewide "listening sessions" this month to allow the public to give its opinions about where additional revenue should come from--and how much. The commission is to recommend revenue-generating measures by November 15.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis was the head of the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

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