Speaker explains history of transportation department

IOANNIS PASHAKIS/Sun-Gazette The Williamsport Kiwanis Club hears from Sandra Tosca, a district executive for the state Department of Transportation, Thursday about the history of the department.

Sandra Tosca, a district executive for the state Department of Transportation, spoke at a Kiwanis Club meeting Thursday afternoon about the history of the department and how far it has come since its creation.

Tosca touched on the beginning of the department and compared the work they had ahead of them then with where the department is today.

According to Tosca, the Department of Highways, the precursor to the Department of Transportation, was created in 1903 by then-Gov. Samuel W. Pennypacker.

“The Department of Highways for Pennsylvania was the first in the country,” Tosca said. “There weren’t other states in that advanced state.”

It wouldn’t be until 10 years after the creation of the department that the government began funding it using a vehicle registration and licensing fee.

“I’m not really sure how the funding worked because there was a gap until 1913,” Tosca said.

The majority of roads were dirt and gravel, said Tosca, well into the 1930s when the department made it a priority to pave roads that were often muddy and hard to travel.

After WWII the commonwealth’s constitution was amended to include yet another way to fund the department, which would pave the way for the construction of a large volume of the interstate system between the ’50s and the ’80s.

“1945 was significant for the department because that was a time where the commonwealth actually amended its constitution to have a restricted motor vehicle fund,” Tosca said. “That meant that PennDOT was not getting money from the general fund.”

Tosca also emphasized just how different the costs as well as the projects are from what the department did in those years.

The Department of Highways began construction of Interstate 80 in 1959 and ended construction in 1970. The project totaled 311 miles of interstate and cost $324 million. Tosca compared that with the currently in progress Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project.

“The CSVT project we are currently constructing is 13 miles. By the time we are done with the project it will probably be close to $700 million.”

The department was given the name it has today in 1970 through Act 120 which consolidated the transportation functions of multiple departments into the state Department of Transportation.