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At Lehigh Valley forum, officials sound alarm on state, federal transportation funding

06/14/2019 3:36 PM | David Higgins (Administrator)

By Sarah Cassi | For

When it comes to transportation in this country, it is the best of times and the worst of times.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate and apt description of what we’re facing now,” said Roger Cohen, senior policy advisor to Pennsylvania’s secretary of transportation, said on Tuesday.

The tech sector is working to improve transportation, with goals of limiting crashes and making it easier for people to move around.

But the infrastructure in place to support that transportation was built for a country with 180 million people, “and now we’re approaching twice that number,” Cohen said.

Cohen was part of the 2019 Lehigh Valley Transportation Forum on Tuesday, sponsored by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and held at the Mack Trucks customer center in Allentown.

The forum touched on various issues surrounding transportation and transit, but most officials raised the alarm for fair, adequate and sustainable transportation funding -- from the federal and state governments.

Becky Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, called it a critical issue --constant growth with no increase in funding.

The issues include a federal Highway Trust Fund that depends on a diminishing gas tax that hasn’t been increased since 1993, while billions of dollars in state transportation funding have been used for Pennsylvania State Police.

“We cant continue on the path we’re on now,” she said.

Officials looking to repair and improve area roads, bridges, sidewalks and transit deal with funding that is “way under capacity for the demand we face,” Cohen said.

And the funding figures don’t consider climate change and its effect. Cohen said PennDOT usually commits $25 to 30 million in emergency funds, and last year spent $135 million.

“That’s the new normal,” he said. “We’re going to have to become much more serious about the future. For that, we need your support and your advocacy ... Time is short and the urgency is now.”

The 2020 census is going to be critical for the Lehigh Valley, Bradley said.

“We need every single person in the Lehigh Valley to respond to that census,” Bradley said, because transportation funding relies on population numbers to determine funding.

There are other actions individuals can take.

Drivers can volunteer for an I-95 Coalition pilot program, which is investigating a mileage-based driver fee. You can find more information about the free pilot program here. The deadline if Friday.

Cohen urged forum visitors to contact their federal and state legislators and urge them to focus on transportation funding solutions.

There are no Democratic roads, or Republican roads, and “We can be a united states again by investing in infrastructure,” he said.

Sarah Cassi may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SarahCassi. Find on Facebook.

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