Pennsylvania transportation officials apply to toll I-80

| 8/21/2007

Officials with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and state DOT have submitted an application to the Federal Highway Administration asking for the authority to toll Interstate 80.

In the application filed Friday, Aug. 17, by a partnership of the two transportation entities, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Joseph Brimmeier did not ask for federal funds. Brimmeier wrote that the partnership seeks federal tolling authority to pay for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the state’s 311-mile portion of I-80.

Brimmeier cited a 2006 report by the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission stating that the state’s transportation budget lacked $965 million per year to keep up with repairs and capital projects.

Gov. Ed Rendell and the state legislature approved a budget in July calling for a toll increase on the turnpike, coupled with new tolls on I-80, to make up those deficits.

Highway users, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, oppose tolls on interstates.

Under a proposed agreement, as outlined in the FHWA application, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission would lease I-80 from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for 50 years beginning no later than Oct. 15.

The proposal indicates that the lease calls for no more than 10 toll booths on I-80 to be up and running by 2011 at a cost of $110 million.

Brimmeier spent the early part of this week touring the state to promote the tolling proposal.

He stated in the FHWA application that the Turnpike Commission would dedicate $1 billion of the I-80 toll revenue during the first 10 years of the lease, in addition to all other dedicated funds, for repairs and rehabilitation on I-80.

Brimmeier claimed in a speech, reported by the Oil City Derrick, that “not one dime of those (I-80) tolls is going to mass transit in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.”

But the tolling proposal calls for a $300-million fund to be set up in 2008 to pay for public transit systems in 73 communities, with approximately 70 percent of the fund dedicated for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Brimmeier explained in the Oil City Derrick article that the $300 million would come out of an estimated $570 million in money that would be freed up in 2008, which includes $120 million PennDOT will save by no longer maintaining I-80.

Whatever way it’s sliced doesn’t sit well with two U.S. representatives from Pennsylvania who are opposed to tolls on I-80.

Rep. Phil English and Rep. John Peterson, both Republicans, have spoken out against the toll proposal. English filed a bill in the U.S. House to prohibit federal funds from being used to toll I-80.

That bill – HR3250 – would need to pass the House and Senate and receive a presidential signature to become law. Both chambers reconvene after Labor Day weekend.

– By David Tanner, staff writer