Pennsylvania House OKs transportation funding plan; tolls touted for I-80

| 6/28/2007

Truckers and other travelers would pay to roll down Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, under a $700 million transportation funding package approved in the state’s House.

The Democratic-led House voted 105-96, mostly along party lines, to advance the bill intended to raise money for roads, bridges and mass transit. It now heads to the Senate where Republicans hold the majority.

The bill also would authorize a study of putting tolls on Interstate 95 and bonding the Pennsylvania Turnpike, among other things.

The plan emerged after Gov. Ed Rendell last week announced he was dropping his pursuit to lease the Turnpike, impose a tax on oil company profits and increase the state sales tax by 1 percent. The Democratic governor touted his plan as a way to generate $1.7 billion in new transportation funding.

Supporters of the House-approved plan say tolling along I-80 would be set up to eliminate or minimize fees for local drivers by building collection sites at New Jersey and Ohio borders. However, the bill doesn’t specify how that would work, The Associated Press reported.

Opponents, including the state’s trucking industry, say the plan to toll the 313-mile east-west route likely would be challenged as unconstitutional.

One other potential stumbling block for charging vehicles to travel along I-80 is a requirement that the federal government authorize the state to convert the existing road into a “pay-as-you-go” route.

Rep. Richard Grucela, D-Northampton, said he supported the bill because it is the lesser of evils to generate revenue for transportation. He is opposed to turnpike privatization or a fuel tax increase.

Another provision in the bill would require municipalities to match 20 percent of state funding for mass transit systems. They would be allowed to raise the money with income, sales, hotel room or vehicle rental taxes. Localities now are required to chip in 13 percent, The Express-Times reported.

The bill – HB1590 – has been forwarded to the Senate, where a Republican spokesperson said GOP lawmakers can live with the tolls as long as commuters are protected.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor