Pennsylvania bill would expand county infrastructure banks to fund large transportation projects

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Take any long trip through Pennsylvania and you’re captivated by the rolling mountains, pointed skyscrapers or the Amish countryside. You are also likely to notice the potholes and crumbling bridges.

“Our drivers already pay the highest gasoline and diesel taxes in the entire nation, so asking people to shell out more money to fix our roads and bridges is simply not an option,” said Pennsylvania state Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette/Westmoreland) in a written statement.

Rep. Warner, who was appointed to the House Transportation Infrastructure Task Force, recently introduced legislation in Pennsylvania to give another funding option for local governments to upgrade their roads and bridges.

If passed, House Bill 2064 would permit counties to apply for loans using their county infrastructure banks through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank. It would allow for the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank to offer even lower interest rates and special terms to counties that have a county infrastructure bank in place. Currently, the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank is tapped by PennDOT for financing transportation projects, but it’s not authorized to make loans directly to county infrastructure banks, according to a statement from Warner’s office.

Under the bill, PennDOT would develop the eligibility requirements and processes for county infrastructure banks to apply for loans that are intended to fund large transportation projects. Those county infrastructure banks that apply for loans would have to submit 30-year infrastructure plans to PennDOT to ensure the loans will be used for qualified projects.

“Transportation funding is of critical importance and we look forward to working with the Legislature on sustainable, added resources,” said Erin Waters-Trassat, a PennDOT spokeswoman. “The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank (PIB) is already structured to permit county infrastructure banks as borrowers in the PIB Program along with many other public and private ‘borrowers.’ PennDOT has designed and developed a thoughtful and flexible low-interest loan program and application process that is suitable and effective for county infrastructure banks as well as many other public and private entities.”

“It is vitally important that we invest in our transportation infrastructure here and across the Commonwealth for the sake of our economy,” said Rep. Warner. “This bill is about being strategic in our investment and getting the most bang for the taxpayers’ buck.”

While counties would not be required to create an infrastructure bank under the legislation, having the ability to borrow from the state infrastructure bank should encourage more counties to pursue the option to improve their transportation infrastructure, Warner said. Essentially, county infrastructure banks would help counties leverage their own taxpayer dollars to offer better loan terms to local governments.

The Dauphin County Infrastructure Bank (DCIB) is one example of the successful use of the program. DCIB was able to leverage nearly $1 million into $11 million worth of improvements into local transportation infrastructure projects in the first three years of the program, according to a bill summary.

Pennsylvania, like many states across the nation, has received poor grades for the condition of its infrastructure.

The state received a ‘C-minus’ in 2018 from the American Society of Civil Engineers for its infrastructure. The overall score ranks infrastructure from top to bottom – water supplies, airports, parks and rail services. Roads and bridges each shared the same grade of ‘D-plus.’

The study, The 2018 Pennsylvania Infrastructure Report Card, says of 22,779 bridges, 18.3 percent are classified in ‘poor condition.’ And 43 percent of Pennsylvania’s more than 120,000 miles of PennDOT-owned roadways have ‘fair or poor pavement surfaces.’ The report at the time found the state was backlogged with road repairs.

The funding legislation proposed by Rep. Warner is one of several bills put forward by lawmakers and based on recommendations from the House Transportation Infrastructure Task Force. One bill would update PennDOT’s contract standards to account for new technological standards in the concrete industry. Another would allow PennDOT to increase what’s called ‘design-build’ for construction projects; the legislation would force the overlapping of the design and build along with construction phases of the project thus completing the project quicker. Other bills would expand public-private partnerships, use Philadelphia casino money to fund mass transit, and force PennDOT to create a 100-year infrastructure plan.

Waters-Trassat wouldn’t discuss a ‘wish list’ of projects around the state, but said PennDOT would have to ‘advise on their priorities’ to each locality.

House Bill 2064 was referred to the House Transportation Committee Feb. 24 and is awaiting consideration by lawmakers.