Laketran wonders how government will fund transportation improvementsPublished: Saturday, January 29, 2011
By Max Reinhart
During his State of the Union Address earlier this week, President Barack Obama said America's own engineers gave the nation a grade of "D" on the subject of infrastructure.
Also during the speech, the president asked for a redoubling of government efforts in rebuilding the country's infrastructure. Like other officials in the public transit industry, Laketran General Manager Ray Jurkowski hopes the news will help stabilize an industry that was on rocky ground even before the recession.
"There's no disagreement as to the size of the problem, everyone agrees it's a crisis," Jurkowski said. "The problem is in finding a bipartisan way to fix it."
A pair of transportation spending reports, both conducted by federal bipartisan committees, reinforce Jurkowski's words.
The first report, issued in December 2007, recommended a 5- to 8-cent increase in the gasoline tax over a five-year period. The second, issued last month, asked for an immediate 15-cent per gallon increase on the same tax.
Though the problem is nothing new, the federal government's previous transportation plan expired more than 16 months ago. And despite Obama's speech, Jurkowski said the general public will have to take an interest in the issue before it is rectified.
"No one wants to talk about it because it's politically unpalatable," Jurkowski said. "Obama commented that he wouldn't increase the gasoline tax so it will be interesting to see how they will fix it."
In addition to federal spending plans, Laketran also anxiously waits to see what the state's budget will look like.
Jurkowski said that, during the past 10 years, the state has cut about 75 percent of its transportation budget. Now, despite the election of a Republican governor, Jurkowski hopes Ohio will follow Washington's lead.
"I hope there's an enlightenment," Jurkowski said. "It's gotten to the point where there's not much left to cut."
Gov. John Kasich's two-year budget is due in March.
Jurkowski said that on a national scale, increased transportation spending would mean more jobs and would help close the gap between the United States and countries like China that have strongly invested in mass transit.
On a local level, Jurkowski said that although some believe public transportation doesn't affect them, Monday's series of fires in Fairport Harbor prove otherwise.
Laketran provided more than 51 man hours, 10 drivers, 12 buses and an additional dispatcher to assist with the emergency evacuation of the small town.
"Many people may think of public transportation as an important service," Jurkowski said. "But like police or fire services, we're there when you need us. We just don't get the same preferences when it comes to funding."