‘Public’ process criticized on Pennsylvania I-80 toll plan

| 8/8/2008

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission officials have vowed to keep the public in the loop and part of the process during the proposed conversion of I-80 into a toll road across the state, but many highway users and local residents are still feeling left out.

Turnpike officials announced Wednesday, Aug. 6, that they are seeking public input into where to locate nine toll collection sites along the 311-mile Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. Officials are trying to narrow the list from 20 possible locations.

Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier released a statement Wednesday saying “we want to hear from residents.”

Officials informed Land Line that comments were to be received via an online comment form, but later added an address for mail to be directed to a hired consulting firm, McCormick Taylor Engineers and Planners. No phone numbers or fax numbers have yet been made available.

Coalitions of residents and highway users that have sprung up in opposition to the tolling plan say information about the proposal has not been flowing freely.

“We don’t want bridges to fall down, but there are other ways of getting the funds,” Clarion County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Brad Ehrhart told Land Line.

He said some people are of the belief that the I-80 toll proposal went away when the Federal Highway Administration rejected the Turnpike Commission’s first application to toll I-80 earlier this year.

“We have trouble convincing people that this is still an ongoing threat,” he said. “I think people got lulled into a false sense of security when the federal government rejected their first application.”

The Turnpike Commission filed its second and more complete application in mid-July.

The I-80 tolling plan hinges on FHWA approval, which would authorize the Turnpike Commission to convert the route into a toll road as prescribed in a Pennsylvania state law known as Act 44.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, along with other highway user groups, continues to fight the proposal. OOIDA has participated in forums and called its own press event in recent months to draw attention to the possible tolling of an existing interstate.

“The reality is it’s going to create a heavy burden for intrastate and interstate commerce,” OOIDA’s Mike Joyce, senior government affairs representative, told Land Line.

“It’s going to force traffic, whether it’s truck traffic or car traffic, onto alternative routes, and ultimately it’s going to discourage businesses from locating to the state. It elevates the cost of doing business.”

Click here to access the online comment form or send written comments to the following address:

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
c/o McCormick Taylor
101 Innovation Blvd.
Suite 206
State College, PA 16803

Turnpike Spokesman Carl DeFebo said he was not aware of a specific deadline to comment on the tolling proposal.

– By David Tanner, staff writer