SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA says Pennsylvania toll increases will hurt truckers

| 12/4/2008

Dec. 4, 2008 – Truckers already faced with razor thin profit margins and tight delivery schedules are hard-pressed to justify paying 25 percent more to use the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

This is especially true because the current transportation funding law in Pennsylvania, known as Act 44, authorizes the increase and calls for a good portion of the funds to be diverted to non-highway projects – including 74 mass transit operations.

Pennsylvania Turnpike officials said Thursday, Dec. 4, that the scheduled increase going into effect Jan. 4, 2009, is justified because it is anticipated to generate an additional $119.2 million per year, bringing annual turnpike revenue to $738.4 million.

“We can justify it because it’s the law and, frankly, there’s no other way of funding state projects,” Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier told Land Line during an online press conference.

“Tolls are now being used for other statewide transportation needs, roads, bridges and mass transit.”

Truckers say it’s hard to justify the increase because of the diversions built into Act 44.

“Act 44 was a terrible piece of legislation, which has tied the hands of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and forces substantial toll increases upon truckers and all highway users come January,” said Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“This will be followed by years of steady increases with a diversion of these funds to subsidize mismanaged mass transit agencies.”

Tolls for Class 8 vehicles traveling the mainline turnpike 358 miles from the Ohio border to the Delaware River Bridge are set to pay $175 and an extra $18.75 at the Gateway Toll Plaza, up from the current rate of $140 on the mainline and $15 at the Gateway plaza. Tolls are guaranteed to increase 3 percent every year thereafter under the plan. Click here to calculate tolls by vehicle class.

Brimmeier said Act 44 allows Pennsylvania to do what no other state does with transportation funding.

“No other state agency in any other state has provided anywhere near this level of funding for transportation infrastructure,” he said.

Act 44 authorized the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to lease Interstate 80 in 2008 and seek the conversion of that interstate into a toll road. The federal government denied the commission’s application for I-80 tolling authority, but Brimmeier said the commission may try again in 2009, calling it an “ongoing, fluid process.”

“The tolling of roads is going to be the future. … It’s not just in Pennsylvania; it’s going to be all across America,” Brimmeier said.

James Runk, the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association president, told Land Line that many long-haulers may try to find a place to divert from the turnpike once the tolls increase. Diversion would also be a reality if I-80 were tolled, he said.

Runk said his association stands with OOIDA against interstate tolling and toll increases that are disproportionately levied on truckers.

“Somebody’s going to have to make some hard decisions and come up with money. Our contention is that everybody should pay their fair share,” Runk said Thursday, December 4.

OOIDA’s Joyce said there are several possible scenarios for Pennsylvania to come up with money and not have to increase taxes or tolls. Several legislative measures are in the works, he said.

“Pennsylvania has to reform the way they do business,” Joyce told Land Line.

Joyce is scheduled to represent OOIDA at a Pennsylvania Transportation Funding Symposium on Friday, Dec. 5, in Clarion, PA. OOIDA has 7,600 members in Pennsylvania according to the Association’s Web site.

– By David Tanner, staff writer