BULLETIN: PennDOT, Turnpike Authority press ahead on I-80 tolls

| 10/12/2007

Friday, Oct. 12, 2007 – Officials from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission are reportedly ready to ink a deal that will convert Interstate 80 to a toll road.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today that officials from the two agencies are prepared to sign a 50-year agreement creating a “unique public-public” partnership to generate $116 billion.

The deal amounts to the DOT leasing the road to the Turnpike Commission to operate it as a toll road.

“Tolling would be an unconscionable burden for small business truckers. And, it would also start the death knell for thousands of Pennsylvania businesses that rely on I-80 for commerce and their very livelihood,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

The attempt to convert I-80 to a toll road has happened lightning fast in terms of the legislative process, according to Spencer.

In a month’s time, the bill setting the stage for the conversion was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature, voted on, approved and signed by Gov. Ed Rendell.

OOIDA staged a protest of the plan to convert I-80 to a toll road on Sept. 19. At that point, residents of Pennsylvania knew little or nothing about the move by the legislature and the governor to slap tolls on the interstate.

“What’s the rush? So these quasi-government entities can elevate their irresponsible and irrational spending of transportation dollars? It’s a fire sale and the people of Pennsylvania are going to get burned,” Spencer said.

The proposal to convert I-80 to a toll road still has to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration. The groups plan to forward the signed lease to FHWA by Oct. 19, according to the Post-Gazette.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has opposed the conversion of I-80 to a toll road since the conversations about it first began in the state. A group of state and federal lawmakers who oppose the plan has since joined the Association in its effort to stop the conversion.

The signing of the lease by PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission, with no details revealed publicly, has added fuel to the fire of OOIDA’s opposition.

“I think it is appalling that the state lawmakers have given the governor the authority to make these sorts of backroom business deals, and lock the citizens of the state into a contract for the next half century,” Spencer said.

“At the very least, it’s blatantly unethical on their part. And, it may be totally illegal.”

– By Jami Jones, senior editor