BULLETIN: Pennsylvania plan to toll I-80 faces uphill climb

| 10/23/2007

Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007 – Pennsylvania officials applying for federal authority to toll Interstate 80 are facing an uphill battle, Land Line has learned.

Transportation officials inked a deal about a week ago to transfer Interstate 80 from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

After agreeing to the lease terms, the two agencies filed a joint application to the Federal Highway Administration for tolling authority on the 311-mile east-west route.

But the application will take some time and there are no guarantees for approval, FHWA Acting Deputy Administrator James D. Ray wrote to state transportation officials on Oct. 17.

“The approval of any application under this program is a discretionary decision,” Ray wrote in separate letters addressed to PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Joseph Brimmeier.

Part of Ray’s correspondence included a clarification involving optimistic statements Brimmeier made at a recent conference in Vienna, Austria.

“As should be clear, FHWA has not granted Pennsylvania the authority to toll I-80,” Ray stated in response to a story posted on tollroadsnews.com.

Ray said he expects competition among states and transportation agencies interested in obtaining tolling authority under one of six FHWA pilot programs.

In fact, FHWA has already filled two slots out of a possible three in the program Pennsylvania officials applied to, which is known as the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, FHWA spokeswoman Nancy Singer told Land Line on Monday, Oct. 22

The first project to receive “conditional approval” under the reconstruction and rehabilitation pilot program was a proposal to reconstruct Interstate 81 in Virginia using private-sector finances borrowed against future toll revenue, according to an FHWA document from March 2003.

The second to receive conditional approval came in 2005, Singer said, with a proposal for truck-only lanes on Interstate 70 from Missouri to Ohio submitted by state departments of transportation.

FHWA wants to accelerate the Missouri-to-Ohio project under an additional program known as the “Corridors of the Future Program.”

The Missouri-to-Ohio proposal gained “corridor” designation Sept. 10.

That leaves five “Corridors of the Future” projects remaining without specific designation. Several of those remaining corridors could provide additional competition against the Pennsylvania proposal.

“Corridors of the Future” include:

  • Interstate 95 from Florida to the Canadian border
  • Interstate 15 in Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah
  • Interstate 5 in California, Oregon and Washington
  • Interstate 10 from California to Florida
  • Interstate 70 in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio
  • Interstate 69 from Texas to Michigan

Some sections of the corridor proposals do not yet exist; therefore, tolling authority may be sought under FHWA tolling programs other than the Interstate Systems Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.

For a list of FHWA’s tolling programs, click here.

– By David Tanner, staff writer