Pennsylvania transportation funding plan advances; includes tolling I-80

| 7/5/2007

A Pennsylvania Senate panel has advanced a $750 million transportation funding package that includes tolling truckers and other travelers to drive down Interstate 80.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 19-7 to modify a House-approved bill intended to raise money for roads, bridges and mass transit. Senators boosted the package from $700 million to $750 million.

Revenue for the plan would come from borrowing against future tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and turning I-80 into a toll road.

Supporters say tolling along the 313-mile east-west route 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 interstate 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.

The revised transportation plan also calls for increasing fares on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by 25 percent starting in 2009. The House version called for toll increases to take effect in 2010.

Another provision in the Senate version would require municipalities to match 15 percent of state funding for mass transit systems. They could raise the money with taxes on income, sales, hotel rooms or vehicle rentals. On average, localities now are required to chip in 13 percent. The House version called for increasing the local share to 20 percent.

The bill – HB1590 – still must pass the full Senate and have House lawmakers agree to changes before it could move to Gov. Ed Rendell’s desk. The governor has asked for $1 billion in new funding.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor