Pennsylvania House reps write to DOT to stop I-80 tolls

| Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Less than one week after state senators sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in opposition to interstate tolling, a dozen representatives from the Pennsylvania House have followed suit with a letter of their own.

“We are writing to express our opposition to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s Phase 1 application seeking federal approval for inclusion of tolling I-80 in the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program,” stated the 12 Republican state senators, led by Rep Russ Fairchild, R-Lewisburg, in the letter dated Monday, Dec. 10.

Eleven state senators – 10 Republicans and one Democrat – sent a similar letter to Peters on Dec. 4.

A growing number of Pennsylvania lawmakers are going on the record as being opposed to tolls on the state’s 311-mile portion of I-80. They also want the enabling state legislation known as “Act 44” rescinded. Act 44 put the tolling concept in motion when Gov. Rendell signed it into law in July.

The Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation has the final say in whether the I-80 proposal fits into one of the pilot programs created in 2005 for tolling existing interstates.

Truckers and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association have been fighting the tolling proposal since the I-80 plan was conceived.

A growing number of lawmakers are listening to truckers about how interstate tolls would affect small businesses.

“Proponents of tolling Interstate 80 claim many of its users do not pay their fair share, that they are truckers just passing through,” the representatives stated in their letter to Peters.

“The truth is truckers already pay a significant amount to travel on our nation’s roadways. A single local independent trucking company reports that in 2006, the 50 trucks in his fleet paid $218,000 in fuel tax, $77,500 for license plates, $27,500 for combined use tax, plus additional taxes on tires. Tolling Interstate 80 will add $7,000 per week, or $364,000 per year, to his expenses. This more than doubles his cost of doing business.”

Signing the letter were Republicans Russ Fairchild of Lewisburg; Garth Everett of Muncy; Fred McIllhattan of Knox; Merle Phillips of Upper Augusta Township; Brad Roae of East Mead Township; Richard Stevenson of Grove City; Michele Brooks of Jamestown; Scott Hutchinson of Venango; David Millard of Berwick; Kathy Rapp of Warren; Mario Scavello of Mount Pocono; and Kerry Benninghoff of Bellfonte.

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

The letter contains one potentially bad omen for truckers.

The state representatives have also urged Secretary Peters to “wait until the facts and figures for leasing the current Turnpike to a private entity are known.”

Gov. Rendell has stated for nearly two years that he prefers leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors than placing tolls on I-80.

Republican lawmakers, in an effort to avoid tolls on I-80, are now talking openly about that possibility.

“In light of the negative impacts of tolling I-80, the potential of the leasing option needs to be fully explored before proceeding with the (Turnpike commission’s) Phase 1 application,” the state representatives stated in their letter.

OOIDA continues oppose privatization, pointing out that infrastructure sold or leased to private investors will lead to higher tolls and increased heavy traffic on local roads from drivers avoiding those tolls.

– By David Tanner, staff writer
david_tanner@landlinemag.com

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