U.S. representative says I-80 tolls will hurt Pennsylvania’s economy

| 8/4/2008

U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-PA, wrote to Gov. Ed Rendell last week to say that placing tolls on Interstate 80 is equivalent to placing a “closed for business sign” on the state line.

“Given the current economic situation we find ourselves in, Pennsylvania cannot afford to have another economic roadblock approved,” Peterson wrote in the letter dated Thursday, July 30.

Peterson wants a state law known as Act 44 repealed.

Rendell signed Act 44 in July 2007, authorizing the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to lease operational control of I-80 from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. A lease agreement enacted in October 2007 gave the Turnpike Commission authority to seek federal approval for tolling under a Federal Highway Administration pilot program.

A few weeks after the Turnpike Commission filed its first application to the FHWA in October 2007, federal officials sent it back with 14 questions and concerns. The commission refiled the document on July 17 this year.

Rendell and a handful of state representatives sent letters in recent days to FHWA officials and to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to urge them to approve the tolling application.

Peterson, according to his communication director, called for a meeting with FHWA Acting Administrator James Ray to discuss the I-80 proposal

“I can assure you and your readers that Congressman Peterson remains committed to keeping I-80 a freeway and will do everything in his legislative power to make sure that happens,” Peterson’s spokesman Patrick Creighton told Land Line on Friday, Aug. 1.

Act 44 remains the current law in Pennsylvania, but Rendell has publicized other possible revenue generators. Rendell has tried in recent months to push through a separate measure to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors. That plan stalled out in a state House committee.

Transportation funding continues to be a hot-button issue in Pennsylvania and in other states, making truckers wonder where their taxes have been spent over the years.

Peterson pointed out in his letter to Rendell that Pennsylvania receives approximately $1.15 in federal funding for every $1 the state spends on highways.

“Tolling I-80 will not only have a disastrous effect on the vast I-80 corridor, but on the Commonwealth as a whole,” Peterson wrote.

– By David Tanner, staff writer