Pennsylvania transportation funding plan nears passage; includes I-80 tolls

| 7/10/2007

Charging truckers and other travelers to drive down Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania is one step closer to reality. Gov. Ed Rendell and the Republican-led Senate reached an agreement on a $27.3 billion state budget, ending a standoff that led to a partial shutdown of state government.

“This is an agreement where all sides can say they have achieved some of their goals,” Rendell, a Democrat, said at a news conference shortly after the agreement was reached late Monday, July 9. The state has been without a budget since the fiscal year began July 1.

The full Senate and House still must vote on the fiscal blueprint. It could arrive on the governor’s desk as soon as the end of the week.

The agreement includes about $950 million annually during the next decade to fund work on roads and bridges, as well as mass transit. Revenue would not count against the budget. The money would come from sources that include boosting tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by 25 percent in 2009 and turning I-80 into a toll road.

The tolling provisions are included in a separate bill – HB1590 – that is awaiting consideration in the Senate. The Democratic-led House already approved it.

Rendell said it is “by far the most significant amount of money devoted to transportation needs in the history of the commonwealth” and should put roads and transit in good shape for the next 15 to 20 years.

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.

Opponents, including the state’s trucking industry, say the plan to toll I-80 likely would be challenged as unconstitutional.

Another plan calls for posting 10 tollbooths along the roadway, the Centre Daily Times reported.

One 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.

James Runk, president of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, said if tolls do come to I-80 it could lead to the diversion of traffic to other roads.

Using alternative routes “is liable to cause more traffic congestion and problems in local communities where if these guys do decide to divert could be more problems,” Runk told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Staff writer Reed Black contributed to this report.