The following opinion column comes from state Rep. Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia), chair of the state House Transportation committee.
“Transportation is a key component of our success as a Commonwealth. Recently, members of the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee visited Pittsburgh in Allegheny County. As a lifelong Eagles and Phillies fanatic, I tried to convince the Steelers and Pirates fans to come over to my side and support the “winning” teams, to no avail.
This makes it seem like there are insurmountable differences between west and east in Pennsylvania, between Pittsburgh and my hometown of Philadelphia, but more unites us than divides us. Throughout the trip, we all agreed that transportation is a nonpartisan issue – a people issue – that must be addressed. The lack of funding to fix our infrastructure in a timely manner before roads and bridges become a safety concern is a real problem from one end of the state to the other.
During our visit, we met with key stakeholders and agencies, including union and local elected officials, and numerous agencies. I rode on an electric school bus when visiting the Penn Hills School District with Rep. Joe McAndrew and learned about the technology of driverless vehicles at Aurora facilities based in Pittsburgh. These visits to different areas of the Commonwealth are a key to creating policy that works throughout the state for the good of all Pennsylvanians.
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey explained the challenges facing his city, from e-scooters to public safety, and shared his vision of the future to make Pittsburgh a first-class city like Philadelphia. The House Transportation Committee held a hearing on how emergency procurement allowed for the rebuilding of the collapsed Fern Hollow Bridge in record time – something I too experienced in the eastern part of the state with the collapse of I-95. These were two very different reconstruction projects, but they had key shared components of a trained union labor workforce and design-build procurement methods that are used elsewhere in the country but not to a high degree in Pennsylvania.
We utilized the public transit system throughout our visit and met with both labor and management to hear different perspectives on how we can improve services. More importantly, we spoke to the people of Pittsburgh who use the public transit system daily. We learned about areas that are underserved and their suggestions on building out a better system.
Whether in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, the common denominator always comes down to funding. Most cities around the country have a dedicated source of local funding available for transportation, which enables them to take advantage of both federal and state funding opportunities. Pennsylvanian communities like ours have limited local funding sources for transportation, so my question is, “Where do we get it?”
I am asking you to help us all figure out this funding dilemma by contacting your state elected officials to share your support for transportation and infrastructure funding. We need new ideas, not new taxes on real estate or increases to an existing fee. Let your state representative and senator know your thoughts so that all Pennsylvanians – east or west, Phillies or Steelers fans – can benefit from safe, accessible, and reliable transportation and infrastructure.”