Mike Turzai Complains About Transit Waste Standing in Front of Highway Widening Boondoggle

Mike Turzai’s idea to split the transportation funding bill out into separate bills for roads and transit sounds like trouble. It’s not that it couldn’t be done right – for instance, I could get behind a bill that reduces the state contribution but gives metros more tools to fund transit out of a regional tax base. The fact that transit funding seems to be permanently endangered in Harrisburg seems to me like a good reason to reduce metros’ dependence on state money.

Back in political reality, what’s more likely to happen is that House Republicans take most of the transportation revenue for the highway bill, and use the transit bill to starve transit even more without giving metros the tools they need to raise more revenue regionally.

What was really amazing about this article though is where Mike Turzai is when he’s making this statement:

“We want it focused on roads and bridges,” he said. “So many reforms have to be  brought to mass transit that it needs to be disentangled. They need to be  separate pieces.”

He’s saying this at a ribbon cutting for a fucking highway widening project!

Turz, dude, highway widening doesn’t work. There’s no evidence that it reduces congestion, and it’s crazy expensive.

It’s certainly true that the state’s mass transit systems require reforms beyond the immediate funding challenges. But the same is true for state spending on roads and highways, which are even more insulated from economic and cost considerations. The widened road Mike Turzai is standing in front of is a prime example of the sort of wasteful project that should never receive state money.

Tom Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission advocated abandoning Ed Rendell’s “fix it first” approach and pulled all kinds of boondoggles like this back onto the agenda. Another example is the hilarious plan to widen Route 22 in the Lehigh Valley, which is projected to cost as much as $320 million.

If this is the kind of stuff that the TFAC is recommending for funding, then lawmakers definitely do not need to find $2.5 billion for transportation.


  1. Geeter, as usual you miss the point. NO one’s going to ride the bus. Ever. Especially your cherished “regional tax base” which is code for “send suburban money to the cities”

    • Jon Geeting says:

      If suburban areas are served by transit networks, they should pay in. I’d fund transit through a combination of land taxes on land around stations, congestion pricing, and dedicated payroll taxes for transit in the counties served by transit networks.

      • I agree with you there. What I don’t agree with you is expanding that area to include areas not currently served.

        The Lehigh Valley isn’t served and doesn’t want to be served.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          You don’t want to be served. You don’t speak for everybody. Rail transit always polls extremely well.

          • It polls well as long as someone else is paying for it.

            Your plan would flush billions on money we don’t have, set us up for billions in future subsidies that will be needed (which we also don’t have), all for a few thousand riders.

            Again, you have the opportunity to implement service now at no cost (I know, that sucks that you can do this without spending billions in other people’s money, but oh well) – intermodal. Link bus and rail where it already exists, with guaranteed seating and immediate departure as soon as the bus gets there.

            This kind of stuff requires thought and analysis Jon. May I suggest you start doing some of both?

          • Jon Geeting says:

            I said how I’d pay for SEPTA expansion – land taxes on land within a mile radius of SEPTA stations, congestion pricing on the Turnpike, Schuylkill, and maybe some other highways, and I’d be less enthusiastic about this, but it would be worth considering dedicated payroll taxes in the counties served by SEPTA. I’d like to see them abandon the fare system and fund the system mostly through land taxes and congestion pricing on roads.

          • Your funding plan would cover maybe 25% of the needed funding to expand SEPTA. Where’s the other 75% come from?

          • Jon Geeting says:

            What do you mean? Those are the 2 or 3 funding sources I want to use to fund the entire SEPTA network. No more fares, only land taxes and congestion charges.

          • No fares? The congestion fees you’d have to charge would decimate Philly’s economy.

            Septa’s 4yr capital budget is $1.4 billion and it’s operating revenues are about $475 million/year. $440 million of the revenue figure comes from fares.

            I repeat – replacing that with your fees will decimate Philly.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            There are 156 SEPTA stations on the regional rail network. You’d have to raise about $5.3 million a year from the land within a mile of each station if you wanted to pay for it all with land value tax. I haven’t seen any estimates of how much revenue congestion pricing would raise in Philly. In NYC it was projected to raise $380 million. Obviously there aren’t as many people traveling into Philly every day, so let’s say you can raise $100 million.

            That seems totally doable to me. I don’t see any reason to think that would “decimate” Philly’s economy. On the contrary, you’d be freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars in disposable income for the people who are most likely to spend it. It would be an enormous wage increase for low and middle income residents, and the reduction in car commuting and solo-driving would have huge economic benefits as people and goods are able to get around much more quickly within the region.

            There’s no reduction in purchasing power, it’s just a transfer of the burden away from transit riders and onto landowners and car commuters.

          • Your SEPTA stop analysis is incomplete (go figure). Just two quick points based on straight-lining the funding by stop. There are SEPTA stops where all the real estate in a 1 mile radius overlap, where real estate values by those stops won’t support that level of tax increase (have you been to North Philly lately?), and where tax exempt properties in the radius would put an inordinate burden on everyone else.

            You’re also ignoring the Capital Improvement side completely.

            You’re a long way away from making this case.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            I was including the capital costs in my annual figure. Obviously each station wouldn’t contribute $5 million – you’d set a millage rate, and the stations near less valuable land would end up contributing less, and the land near the more central stations would contribute more.

            If landowners can’t afford the bill, then they need to get busy developing buildings that can generate an income stream high enough to pay the taxes. It’s a huge fiscal scandal that valuable land near SEPTA stops is being wasted on value-subtracting surface parking lots. Paying for SEPTA with value capture would push those landowners to sell the land or build something to generate income. More compact development around transit stations would increase ridership, making development near other stations even more lucrative, increasing land values even more, and bringing in more revenue to SEPTA.

  2. How much money do you think you need to raise for this? And what other budgets have to scramble for new funding?

  3. “There’s no reduction in purchasing power, it’s just a transfer of the burden away from transit riders and onto landowners and car commuters.”

    Why is it the landowner’s responsibility to bear the burden of the transportation costs of somebody else?

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Land near transit stops is very valuable, and that’s a direct result of the public’s investment in transit. Taxing the land is just taking back some of the value that the taxpayers created, to pay for public services.


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