FHWA administrator sheds light on I-80 toll issue

| 10/22/2009

Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez says Pennsylvania officials are very close to re-filing their application to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road.

Mendez was the invited guest speaker Wednesday, Oct. 21, during the annual meeting of the American Highway Users Alliance. OOIDA sits on the Highway Users Alliance Board of Directors

Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, attended the meeting and said it was a great opportunity to ask questions and talk openly with Administrator Mendez about transportation issues.

“I asked him point blank what the dialogue has been with Pennsylvania, what the administration’s view of Pennsylvania submitting another application to convert I-80 to a toll road is, and he was very candid and sincere in his response,” Joyce told Land Line Now.

“His response said that yes, they have been working with Pennsylvania on the initiative to convert I-80 into a toll road, and any application that comes in to use one of the current tolling pilot programs that are available under DOT and Federal Highways would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

Mendez shared with the group that Pennsylvania’s application would likely be re-filed in two weeks. FHWA had rejected Pennsylvania’s initial application for not meeting the criteria of a specific tolling pilot program.

“The good news was that Administrator Mendez mentioned that, consistent with Secretary (Ray) LaHood’s comments, that the secretary is not very enthused about converting existing lanes into toll lanes,” Joyce said.

“They would support tolling new capacity of highways, but they’re not very keen on converting existing lanes to toll roads.”

OOIDA and the Alliance oppose the conversion of federally funded highways into toll roads. The principle is that tolls would amount to double taxation because fuel taxes and other fees are already funding those roadways.

“There’s a ray of light on that,” said Joyce. “I’m concerned that there has been an active dialog back and forth between Pennsylvania and Federal Highways, but I feel a little bit better in that the message from the secretary has gotten to the administrator at Federal Highways about tolling existing capacity,” Joyce said.

“We hope that the message holds through on the application to toll I-80.”

Joyce said the American Highway Users Alliance is respected on Capitol Hill for its dedication to safety, mobility and infrastructure.

“They’ve been a very effective organization and we’re proud to be associated with them,” he said.

– By David Tanner, staff writer

Land Line Now Host Mark Reddig contributed to this story.