By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
A bill containing funding for the $600 million Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway on Tuesday was overwhelmingly approved by the state Senate Transportation Committee.
The legislation and heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee before a possible vote on the state Senate floor.
The funding is proposed as part of the state Department of Transportation’s “Decade of Investment” plan, which legislators hope to pass by the state budget deadline of July 1.
“This is step one,” said state Sen. John Gordner, R-27, of Berwick, who serves on the transportation and appropriations committees. “This is ‘Senate Bill 1’ and it is the number one priority of the Senate Republican caucus.”
Gas tax to fund roads
The Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday solidly approved the $2.5 billion transportation bill, underwritten primarily by an increase in a wholesale gasoline tax — five cents a gallon a year over the next five years — that is expected to be passed on to drivers at the pump. The 13-1 committee vote brought together urban Democrats and conservative mid-state Republicans in support of a bill being touted as a key public safety initiative with the potential to boost hiring.
The bill includes the about $600 million in funding for the 12.4-mile Thruway.
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108, of Sunbury, agreed.
“It’s that first step that we’ve been talking about,” she said.
On April 3, local government officials announced that the $600 million Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway project has been included in a $1.8 billion transportation funding plan proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett and PennDOT.
“We’re looking forward to the dialogue this bill creates,” PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said. “Transportation funding is crucial to our state’s safety, commerce and mobility.”
Ultimately, the bill may be considered by the full state Senate, Gordner said.
“Then the House will have to take action on a similar piece of legislation,” he said.
And the legislation won’t be without its opposition.
Sen. John Wozniak, the transportation committee’s ranking Democrat, and committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, acknowledged that voting for such a large gasoline tax increase will be difficult for many lawmakers and that the bill may need changes to get it through both chambers.
It’s still early to determine what kind of opposition or support the bill would have in the House, where some will support the bill’s initiative to bring jobs to the state while others will be concerned with spending, Culver said.
“You’ll have bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition,” she said.
But lawmakers remain optimistic that the Thruway will become a reality.
Gordner cited the “broad, bipartisan support” for the bill, with the only “no” vote Tuesday being cast by Democrat Richard Kasunic, who said he would not support a gasoline tax increase partly because a key highway project, the five-mile expansion of Route 219 to the Maryland border, in his southwestern Pennsylvania district is not in PennDOT’s plans.
“I continue to feel as confident as I was,” Gordner said. “I would not have brought the Transportation secretary and gathered our delegation if I did not feel pretty confident that we would get transportation funding through by July 1.”
Culver said she also remains optimistic, saying this is the closest to a reality the Thruway has come “in (her) lifetime.”
“There is a large amount of support from constituents,” she said. “People are talking about it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report