SPECIAL REPORT: FHWA denies Pennsylvania’s application to toll I-80

| 9/11/2008

Thursday, Sept. 11 – Truckers, highway users and lawmakers supporting their cause are claiming victory today as the Federal Highway Administration has rejected a tolling proposal for I-80 in Pennsylvania.

U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-PA, an outspoken opponent of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s application to toll 311 miles of Interstate 80 in the state, said Federal Highway Administration officials denied the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s application on Thursday, Sept. 11, on grounds that the application did not meet FHWA’s statutory or technical requirements.

“It’s a great day for the truckers, it’s a great day for the shippers, it’s a great day for the economic future of Pennsylvania and the vehicle travelers, too,” Peterson told Land Line Now on XM Satellite Radio.

“It would have been the most expensive corridor in the country with no alternatives of four-lane except for crooked country roads. It was just a bad deal for Pennsylvania and it was a bad deal for those traveling through Pennsylvania.”

Peterson said the proposal, if approved, would have buried a lot of trucking businesses.

“With truckers struggling with fuel costs, to have that burden slapped on them would have put a lot of truckers in Pennsylvania and nearby, out of business,” Peterson said.

OOIDA officials rejoiced at the announcement.

“Today is a very good day for truckers across America, for highway users and for those in Pennsylvania whose lifeline is I-80,” OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce said.

“We appreciate the hard work of Congressman John Peterson, Congressman Phil English, Representative Mike Turzai, Representative Scott Hutchinson and the members of our coalition, Americans for a Strong National Highway Network.”

“We’re appreciative that the administration understood the enormous impact that converting an existing road into a toll road would have on highway users and businesses in an economy that is currently struggling.”

Recently confirmed FHWA Administrator Tom Madison issued a statement saying the Turnpike Commission’s application “did not meet the legal requirements for the correct use of toll revenue.”

“Tolling interstates is a viable option for many states to fund highway improvements or to improve performance conditions,” Madison said. “Because we are legally bound to ensure applications for this program meet all congressionally mandated requirements, however, we are regrettably unable to approve this application.”

Transportation funding remains a concern in the Keystone State. Madison stated that the FHWA would continue to assist Pennsylvania in finding ways to address transportation needs.

Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors from New York and Spain remains on the table – albeit stalled in the state House Transportation Committee.

Act 44, the law that Rendell signed in July 2007, remains on the table as the state’s current transportation funding model. Act 44 authorized the Turnpike Commission to seek tolls on I-80.

“The Legislature needs to do something to repeal Act 44,” Joyce said.

“They need to do something to correct the situation they are in. The solution, however, is not a knee-jerk reaction to immediately provide the governor with legislation enabling him to sell or lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“We believe that there are alternative solutions available today to the Legislature to meet the demands for maintaining and improving Pennsylvania’s infrastructure.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer

– Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report. He can be reached at reed_black@landlinemag.com.