SPECIAL REPORT: Highway groups charge ahead against I-80 tolls

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 1/12/2010

Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 – OOIDA and other highway groups making up the Americans for a Strong National Highway Network are urging U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to deny Pennsylvania the right to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road.

The coalition sent a letter to LaHood on Tuesday, Jan. 12. The letter takes Pennsylvania to task on statements made about the condition of I-80 and the state’s reasons for applying for tolling authority under a federal pilot program.

Quoting directly from PennDOT’s own study in 2005, the coalition points out that I-80 is in good condition and does not need to be rebuilt using tolls.

“The condition of I-80 is no longer the concern it once was. The condition of I-80 has been significantly improved over the past 20-plus years, and PennDOT has I-80 on a manageable preservation cycle,” PennDOT officials stated in their 2005 assessment.

PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission are hoping to toll I-80 to make the highway self-sustaining and free up federal funds to pay for other transportation programs including mass transit.

OOIDA and the coalition members oppose the diversion of highway funds for other uses.

“What has changed since 2005?” the coalition demanded in a question to LaHood. “In 2007, to deal with a statewide transportation funding shortfall, Pennsylvania’s legislature approved a funding plan known as Act 44. This Act envisioned the state garnering a new revenue source by borrowing against future toll revenues on Interstate 80. The idea was to toll and monetize the interstate so that the state could then raise funds and divert them statewide.”

The coalition points to letters by the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee as additional proof that the state’s motor fuel taxes and motor license fees “continue to be the best way to finance our highway and bridge system.”

The coalition said that if Pennsylvania’s application were to be accepted into the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, it would set “a very low bar” for other states attempting to toll interstates.

The coalition added that interstate tolling could also damage the nation’s ability to compete in the global economy.

“In addition, such a shift could undermine the public’s general support for the federal fuel taxes that have underwritten the federal-aid highway program for the past 54 years,” coalition members stated.

The Americans for a Strong National Highway Network include OOIDA, the American Highway Users Alliance, American Trucking Associations and Natso – the national association of truck stop and travel plaza owners.

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