A toll protest certain to draw attention

| 6/20/2008

The instructions are simple: Everybody conga!

Residents along Interstate 80 in Clarion County, PA, plan on forming a large conga line later this month to protest a state law calling for the route to be tolled.

The chosen form of protest may seem silly, organizers admit, but the cause is serious.

“We are going to be protesting Act 44, which is the act that authorized the Turnpike Commission to try to levy tolls on I-80. … It’s kind of a crazy idea to fight a crazy law,” Brad Ehrhart, executive director of the Clarion County Economic Development Corporation, told Land Line.

The Clarion Area Chamber of Business and Industry is the other chief sponsor of the event.

The line will begin forming at 9 a.m., Saturday, June 28, at Trinity Point at Monroe Park at I-80 and Route 68. Participants and drummers are wanted, Ehrhart said.

Organizers are asking participants to register in advance by sending e-mail to info@callclarionpa.com or by calling (814) 226-9045. Click here to view the group’s Web site.

Ehrhart said there are two major reasons for protesting against I-80 tolls.

“One, it’s going to do grievous damage to our economy here,” he said. “We still make things in Clarion County. Raw materials come in by I-80, and finished goods leave by I-80. If you start to increase the prices of things, people will start to find substitutes. They will make changes in how they purchase.”

The second reason is safety on local roads.

“People will divert to avoid tolls if they can, especially at these mainline tollbooths,” Ehrhart said.

Nothing against truckers, he said, but local roads can’t handle increases in truck traffic.

Gov. Ed Rendell signed Act 44 into law in July 2007 in an attempt to generate revenue for highways, bridges and mass transit. Rendell has also proposed leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors. Both proposals remain controversial and have drawn public scrutiny.

U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-PA, garnered publicity June 9 by calling for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to repeal Act 44 before the current state legislative session recesses for the summer on or after June 30.

Peterson stated then that I-80 tolls will put the economic future of Pennsylvania “in grave danger.”

Mike Joyce, senior government affairs representative for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, spoke at the Peterson event on the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, drawing attention to the adverse impact that $5 diesel and excessive tolling are having on truckers.

– By David Tanner, staff writer