U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (left) and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood listen to input from area leaders during a forum Monday held to discuss transportation issues in Pennsylvania and the Lehigh area at the America on Wheels museum. (Jennifer Cecil/The Morning Call / August 24, 2009)
Rail advocate Paul Marin chugged along with his ongoing plea for the restoration of passenger rail service to the Lehigh Valley. Airport director George Doughty touted the need for federal funding for the nation's airports. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski pitched the importance of money for his beloved American Parkway project.
There was nothing new in those appeals, offered at the America on Wheels museum in Allentown Monday. The big difference was on the receiving end: U.S. Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood was the listener, in person.Introduced by Sen. Arlen Specter as ''the man with the money,'' LaHood visited the city with Specter after the two made similar stops in Norristown, Elizabethtown and Camp Hill earlier in the day.
In Allentown, Specter and LaHood met with elected officials and transportation planners. In a roundtable discussion that amounted mostly to repeated pleas for more funding from Washington -- or at least to keep expected allocations from being cut -- neither official made significant pledges of new money for specific projects.
Rather, they talked broadly about the vital need for transportation improvements, including American Parkway, the ongoing Route 412 corridor work in Bethlehem, and Route 22 upgrades in the Lehigh Valley.Participants included U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-15th District; the mayors of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton; executives of Lehigh and Northampton counties; several state House members; and representatives from the state Transportation Department, Lehigh Valley International Airport, Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority, Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and other groups.
In addition to LANTA board member Marin's focus on rail service, which was echoed by state Rep. Karen Beyer, R-Lehigh, state Rep. Jennifer Mann, D-Lehigh, stressed that Pennsylvania, with older transportation infrastructure than many states, can't afford to neglect the needed repairs and replacement.Reacting to questions from Doughty and LANTA Executive Director Armando Greco, LaHood said the federal Highway Trust Fund ''is just inadequate.'' Declining gas-tax revenue as more fuel-efficient cars hit the highways will mean more stable sources of revenue must be found, he said, while pledging to ''work with Congress to put together a strong bill'' to provide adequate funding.Michael Rebert, PennDOT's regional district executive, pitched in for his own plea, citing anticipated future funding shortfalls, particularly if the federal government does not approve the implementation of tolls on I-80. Specter declined to predict what the proposal's chances might be.
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