Patricia “Pattie” Cowley, executive director of the Pennsylvania Bus Association (and of the Greater New Jersey Motorcoach Association) was invited to serve on a new commission created by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to look at fresh ways to fund road infrastructure.
Cowley has been named to the Transportation Revenue Options Commission, which the governor established with an executive order. It’s tasked with developing comprehensive funding recommendations for Pennsylvania’s large and aging infrastructure.
It’s one of two statewide roles she has been asked to represent the industry’s concerns. She was appointed by Wolf to the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Council.
The new commission is part of Wolf’s commitment to phase out Pennsylvania’s gas tax, which is becoming an unreliable source for funding Pennsylvania’s vast transportation network with the growth of electric and fuel-efficient vehicles.
“Our economy, our communities, and our future rely on a strong transportation system that supports our safety and growth. We have more than $9 billion in annual unmet needs across our state-maintained transportation system alone,” Wolf said in a statement.
Cowley jokes her invitation may have come from the old adage, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. One of the funding concerns is PennDOT’s P3 initiative, which is about bridge tolling. She wrote a letter to PennDOT’s Secretary Yassmin Gramian about PBA’s opposition to their bridge tolling plan (P3).
“I shared our opinion that our industry already pays more than its fair share to operate on Pennsylvania roadways and additional tolls would only add to that increasing cost. Further, the COVID-19 shutdown and restrictions in Pennsylvania and around the country have had a devastating impact on travel and transportation operators.” Cowley said.
“The motorcoach, tour and travel industries are dominated by small businesses, and most often these are family-owned multigenerational businesses. These small businesses are not capable of withstanding even a modest downturn in domestic travel and tourism, let alone the devastating situation the travel industry is currently experiencing. It is my hope the group can provide some creative solutions vs placing additional burdens on our members and community.”
She also wrote an op-ed that was published in several newspapers and online publications.
He added, Pennsylvania is relying too much on outdated, unreliable funding methods, and the federal government hasn’t taken meaningful action in decades.
“Phasing out the burdensome gas tax, coupled with seeking long-term reliable funding solutions that will keep pace with our infrastructure needs, deserves a close examination. Forming this bipartisan commission will bring multiple, bipartisan voices to the table to ensure that we can examine reliable, sustainable revenue solutions to address both near-term and long-term funding needs,” Wolf said.
Pennsylvania has one of the largest state-owned transportation networks in the country, with nearly 40,000 miles of roads and more than 25,400 bridges under its direct purview. PennDOT also oversees aviation, rail freight, public transportation, ports, pedestrian and bicycle programs.
In 2019, the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) identified major risks to transportation funding, such as reduced fuel revenues, unpredictable federal funding and legislative changes to reduce commitments.
PennDOT’s latest assessment places the annual gap of its needs in all modes and facilities at $9.3 billion, growing to an annual $14.5 billion gap by 2030.
Further, as more fuel-efficient vehicles and technologies are created, reliance on the gas tax for state revenue is less and less dependable. Any phase-out of the gas tax will need to be coupled with new or replacement revenue.
The Transportation Revenue Options Commission is composed of transportation, economic, and community stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, including majority and minority leaders from the state House and Senate Transportation and Appropriations committees. Gramian will serve as commission chair.
The commission will have its first meeting by March 25, and a report of commission activities and funding options will be submitted to the governor before Aug. 1, 2021.
The following individuals were invited to join the commission, with additional representatives from transportation’s varied stakeholders to be invited before the first meeting:
“I am grateful to all the commission members for contributing their time and expertise to this critical issue,” Gramian said. “We must work together to find sustainable, future-focused funding solutions that will keep Pennsylvanians moving.”
For more information about transportation funding in Pennsylvania, visit www.PennDOT.gov/funding.