By Liam Migdail-Smith, Reading Eagle

BARTA likely would need to resort to fare hikes and service cuts if it loses the federal money that accounts for about 20 percent of its funding, Dennis D. Louwerse, the agency's executive director, said Thursday.

And that's what Louwerse and other transit agency directors are worried will happen if Congress changes a 30-year-old law that sets aside a portion of the gas tax - 2.86 cents per gallon - for public transportation.

But U.S. legislators who represent Berks County said that change is unlikely.

The House's draft version of a new transportation bill takes away the dedicated transit money and replaces it with other funds. But legislators expect that to change by the final version. The Senate version keeps the dedicated funds.

"I'm fairly optimistic that we won on this," said Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, a Chester County Republican who said he pushed for keeping the dedicated transit money.

Rep. Jim Gerlach, a Chester County Republican who also said he made a similar push, said he heard that House leadership is expected to introduce a new version of the bill that keeps the dedicated funds.

Rep. Charles W. Dent, a Lehigh County Republican, said he supports dedicated transit funding.

Rep. Tim Holden, a Schuylkill County Democrat, could not be reached.

Transit funding wouldn't necessarily go away if it didn't come from the dedicated portion of the gas tax.

Under the plan, funding would slightly increase but would come from a different source.

Louwerse said he worries that transit would then compete with other areas for funding and that the amount BARTA gets would be unpredictable.

"You have no idea what might happen to you," he said. "It's like playing Russian roulette."