SPECIAL REPORT: PA governor signs bill that includes I-80 tolling

| 7/19/2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007 – Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell signed a bill into law Wednesday that could lead to truckers and others paying to drive down Interstate 80 in the state.

Rendell signed the bill one day after the House voted 124-79 to approve it after Senate lawmakers passed it on a 30-19 vote. The bill – HB1590 – accounts for about a 20 percent increase in transportation funding during the next decade.

The new law earmarks about $950 million annually for roads, bridges and mass transit during the next decade. The money will come from sources that include increasing tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by 25 percent in 2009 and increasing the toll rate by 3 percent each year thereafter. It also is slated to allow I-80 to become a toll road.

It requires municipalities to match 15 percent of state funding for mass transit systems. They could raise the money with taxes on income, sales, hotel rooms or vehicle rentals. On average, localities now are required to chip in 13 percent.

Rendell said the plan represents “by far the most significant amount of money devoted to transportation needs in the history of the commonwealth” and should put roads and transit in good shape for the next 15 to 20 years.

One potential stumbling block for charging vehicles to travel along the 313-mile east-west route is a requirement that the federal government authorize the state to convert the existing road into a “pay-as-you-go” route.

However, that isn’t expected to be a problem. Rendell said Wednesday at a bill signing that U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters assured the state it will have little problem receiving approval, The Altoona Mirror reported.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission would be authorized to construct 10 toll barriers along the route. Advocates say tolling would be set up to eliminate or minimize fees for local drivers. However, the bill doesn’t specify how that would work.

Opponents, including the state’s trucking industry, say the plan to toll the roadway could lead to the diversion of traffic to other roads as well as the relocation of trucking-dependent businesses along Interstate 81.

It is unclear how long it would take to obtain approval from the U.S. DOT to toll I-80.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor