Pandemic Put $1B Hole in Pennsylvania's Transportation Budget
Acting Secretary of Transportation Yassmin Gramian said the shutdown that halted driver's license renewals and triggered a dramatic reduction in travel and a corresponding loss of gas tax revenue has left the state with gaping holes in its transportation budget. Hard-hit line items included an estimated $800 million loss of revenue for construction and maintenance, a $100 million reduction in funds for multimodal projects and a $90 million reduction in liquid fuels revenue for local governments.
PennDOT is the most recent agency left with budget problems from the reduction in travel. Earlier this week, the Allegheny County Airport Authority postponed a $1 billion renovation project at Pittsburgh International Airport , citing a 95% reduction in air travel and corresponding revenues.
Speaking at a virtual hearing before the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee this week, Gramian said 850 highway projects across the state came to an abrupt halt in March with the state shutdown.
All but 20 resumed this week, as Gov. Tom Wolf lifted his ban on construction work.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Kim Ward , R- Hempfield , said Wolf compounded the problem.
Pennsylvania was the only state to halt road construction during the pandemic, Ward said. In addition to delaying road work, she said that decision idled 50,000 construction. workers.
" Gov. Wolf's overreaching executive orders on covid-19 will dismantle the multimodal transportation system of the Commonwealth. The transportation program was fiscally constrained before covid-19. Now, the future of funding our highways, public transportation, airports and other assets is in jeopardy," she said.
Gramian said officials hope to fill some of the budget hole with federal stimulus money.
Meanwhile, they are struggling to hold the state's deteriorating highway system together with temporary patches.
"Many of the ways we do business may be changed forever," Gramian warned. She said PennDOT has reduced its construction budget by $80 million-$100 million for the year that ends June 30 .
Although officials said they have adequate funds to pay contractors, they warned that the shutdown in projects delayed federal reimbursements and could result in some delays in payments to contractors.
"The big contractors can survive that, but what about the smaller ones?" Ward asked.
Like PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has seen its revenues fall with the decline in travel and tolls. Turnpike CEO Mark Compton estimated tolls have declined by $118 million . That in turn will add to PennDOT's financial woes, forcing the turnpike to delay a $122 payment it is scheduled to make to PennDOT in July until October, he said.
Ward said the long-term impact could ripple across the state's economy.
" Pennsylvania's transportation system is the foundation of a strong economy, and we need a reliable system to help Pennsylvania recover from the global pandemic. An estimated loss of $1 billion to our transportation program will have a significant impact on highway safety, economic development and mobility for this year and next year," Ward said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, email@example.com or via Twitter .
(c)2020 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)
Visit Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) at www.triblive.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.