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PennDOT Gets $407M in Federal COVID Relief for Road, Bridge Projects

Tue February 16, 2021 - Northeast Edition
Reading Eagle

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has received $407.2 million in federal COVID relief funds for road and bridge projects that will help cover revenue gaps in its construction program.

"While these funds are definitely helpful, they won't cover all of the construction needs of Pennsylvania roads and bridges," said Alexis Campbell, a PennDOT spokesperson.

The bulk of PennDOT's construction funding is paid by gasoline taxes. Less money is coming in from gas taxes because fewer motorists are driving during the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, PennDOT was predicting a $289 million drop in revenues from gas tax reductions.

"We've known for a long time that our dependence on the gas tax is unsustainable, and COVID-19 has only made that fact clearer," Campbell added.

Anyone pumping gas is paying to fix Pennsylvania's aging infrastructure. For every gallon of gas, there is a 57.6 cent tax to PennDOT and an 18.5 cent tax to the federal government.

In July 2020, the Reading Area Transportation Study group adopted a $274.8 million four-year plan, stretching out the time frame for completing road and bridge projects on U.S. Highway 422, U.S. 222 and PA Route 61.

The board also agreed to hold back repairing some of the smaller bridges on less traveled roads that have already closed.

In November, PennDOT predicted an $8.1 billion loss in revenues in the 2021 fiscal year, primarily due to fewer motorists driving since March.

A total of $15 billion is necessary to meet the needs of highway and bridge repairs, but only $6.9 billion is available.

In the meantime. PennDOT has 575 projects under way that total $5.2 billion.

To help alleviate the funding shortage, last fall PennDOT launched a Pathways project aimed at finding new ways to raise funding for road and bridge projects.

The solutions include charging tolls for state roads and bridges, and charging higher fees for driving in fast lanes and regular lanes.

PennDOT plans to provide a public comment period on the Pathways program in March.

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