Pennsylvania officials resubmit I-80 tolling application

| 7/23/2008

Pennsylvania transportation officials have resubmitted an application to the federal government seeking approval to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road across the entire state.

Tuesday, July 22, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Joseph Brimmeier announced the filing of the application dated Thursday, July 17. The filing date comes nine months after the Turnpike Commission submitted the original application to the Federal Highway Administration seeking I-80 tolls.

FHWA officials sent back the first application shortly after it was filed with 14 specific concerns for Pennsylvania officials to address.

Brimmeier said the resubmitted application addresses each of the concerns and includes a capital improvement plan outlining specific projects that I-80 toll revenue would pay for.

The possible tolling of an existing interstate highway built with federal tax dollars has a number of highway-user groups up in arms, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Truckers who run on I-80 already pay federal use taxes to maintain the roadway. Tolls would amount to double taxation, OOIDA officials said.

“Obviously, we’re adamantly opposed to tolling any existing road for any reason. The problem that Pennsylvania has with transportation funding has virtually nothing to do with how much they collect and everything to do with spending what they collect,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.

“They are certainly not putting that money into highways and bridges. Fiscal irresponsibility is no grounds for selling off public infrastructure, and that’s exactly what putting tolls on that road would be.”

The Association has been fighting I-80 tolls in Pennsylvania since first discussed in the summer of 2007. Association officials have issued Calls to Action and members have responded by working the phones and contacting lawmakers to oppose the proposal.

OOIDA officials have also helped organize rallies in the capital of Harrisburg, PA, in opposition to I-80 tolls and have called for the repeal of the state law that authorized the Turnpike Commission to apply for tolling.

Gov. Ed Rendell signed legislation known as Act 44 into law in July 2007 to authorize the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to lease operational control of I-80 from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for 50 years.

In October 2007, the Turnpike Commission and PennDOT filed their first application for Phase I conditional approval for I-80 tolls as part of an FHWA pilot program called the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.

If the FHWA grants Phase I conditional approval, Pennsylvania officials say they will file a Phase II application for full approval and convert I-80 into a toll road in the summer of 2010.

If the application is approved, Brimmeier said the Turnpike Commission will have public meetings in late 2008 or early 2009 to seek input on topics of proposed tolling locations, traffic diversion and the improvement projects.

Gov. Rendell wrote a letter on Monday, July 21, to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to urge FHWA’s approval of the I-80 application.

Rendell has been back and forth on the I-80 toll issue since 2007. The governor has stated on numerous occasions that he prefers a different plan entirely – to lease the state’s current east-west toll road, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, to private investors for 75 years.

Highway user groups including truckers remain opposed to the leasing option as well as I-80 tolls.

Click here to read the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission tolling application, Gov. Rendell’s letter and the Turnpike Commission’s proposed capital improvement projects for I-80.

– By David Tanner, staff writer