Pennsylvania officials seek comments about I-80 toll locations

| 8/7/2008

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is seeking public comments about proposed locations for toll-collection sites along Interstate 80.

Turnpike Commission officials announced Wednesday, Aug. 6, that they are hoping to construct nine collection points along I-80, provided the federal government approves their application to toll the 311-mile portion of interstate.

Opponents of the I-80 tolling plan say the answer to the commission’s request for locations is simple.

“Nowhere,” said Mike Joyce, senior government affairs representative for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Joyce said truckers already pay taxes and fees to travel interstate highways and that tolling an existing interstate would be double taxation.

Approximately 5,500 of OOIDA’s 161,000-plus members live in Pennsylvania. A vast number of members from out of state also run I-80 in the Northeast.

Malcolm Flight, owner of Flight Time Enterprises based in Omaha, NE, is in the latter category. He runs weekly from the Midwest to the East Coast on I-80.

Flight told Land Line that he is concerned about shelling out an extra $93 each way to cross Pennsylvania. That number is based on the Turnpike Commission’s proposed rate of 30 cents per mile for five-axle vehicles.

“That would be $200 a week on top of the $1,800 in fuel. That’s before I put one bite of food in my mouth or anything,” Flight said.

“That would almost shut me down. Ninety percent of my freight goes into that area, and 90 percent of my freight comes out of that area. There’s not a good way to bypass I-80 in Pennsylvania, and it’s not worth it.”

Turnpike Commission officials are working to narrow their list of proposed collection points from 20 to a total of nine sites. Click here to view a chart of proposed locations.

Officials announced that E-ZPass will be the preferred method for collecting tolls and that local users who don’t travel very far will not pay tolls at the first collection point they come to. The electronic system will allow two-axle local users to travel toll free until they reach a second tolling location. Drivers who don’t have E-ZPass would be able to pay cash. Officials have stated that all toll collection will eventually be done electronically through E-ZPass or through the development of a photo system.

Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier told the media via an Internet press conference that public comments will help the commission choose toll collection locations. Click here to fill out an online comment form.

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

Act 44 also authorized the Turnpike Commission to seek authority from the Federal Highway Administration to toll the route. As of press time, the FHWA had not approved the application.

Should tolling be approved for I-80, Act 44 would require the commission to pay PennDOT between $1 billion and $1.7 billion per year for the 50-year term. If tolling is denied by the FHWA, the commission remains on the hook to pay up to $450 million per year to PennDOT. That money would come from existing revenues generated by the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

– By David Tanner, staff writer