SPECIAL REPORT: U.S. rep blasts PA turnpike chief for I-80 toll rhetoric

| 10/15/2007

Monday, Oct. 15, 2007 – A U.S. lawmaker from Pennsylvania is blasting back at some state officials who want to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road.

Rep. Phil English, R-PA, said for starters, the toll proposal is not a done deal.

English released a statement Friday, Oct. 12, that said Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Joseph Brimmeier has been premature in saying the Federal Highway Administration has given approval to the state’s application to toll I-80.

English also wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters urging her to scrap the I-80 proposal.

“After carefully reading (the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s) submission, I do not believe they would qualify for any of the current tolling programs operated by the FHWA and strongly urge you to promptly reject any future application based on this proposal,” English wrote.

English has also attacked the I-80 proposal itself, which Gov. Ed Rendell, state lawmakers and transportation officials settled on in June as part of the state’s budget.

“The Turnpike Commission is essentially arguing that toll revenues from I-80 will be the first dollars in their fiscal bucket and only spill-over funds from other sources will be diverted to mass transit,” English stated in his press release. “But, there will be no spill-over funds unless they first fill the bucket with I-80 tolls.”

The state legislation that gives Pennsylvania officials the authority to toll I-80 and increase Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls by 25 percent in 2009 includes a provision for funding 73 mass transit projects.

“The Turnpike Commission’s claims that toll revenue from I-80 will not be diverted to mass transit are particularly disingenuous given the fact that Gov. Rendell signed the authorizing legislation in Philadelphia’s 69th street SEPTA station and stated during the signing ceremony: ‘Finally, we are providing a dedicated, predictable funding source to shore up public transit agencies,’ ” English stated.

Click here to read the press release and letter to Secretary Peters.

English has joined fellow U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-PA, as well as OOIDA in opposing interstate tolling programs.

In a recent statement, OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer called the I-80 tolling proposal “appalling,” “blatantly unethical,” and said “it may be totally illegal.”

The letter English sent to Peters also states that the U.S. rep believes the deal to be illegal.

As of press time Monday, Oct. 15, Gov. Rendell, Turnpike CEO Brimmeier and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials were scheduled to sign a 50-year agreement for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to administer tolls on I-80.

If the deal is approved by FHWA, tolls on I-80 would mirror those on the turnpike, Brimmeier previously toldLand Line.

– By David Tanner, staff writer