Pennsylvania officials add to I-80 toll application

| 9/2/2008

Pennsylvania transportation officials filed additional documents on Friday urging the FHWA to approve their application to convert I-80 into a toll road.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission officials filed the documents in the form of an addendum on Friday, Aug. 29.

The addendum includes proposed toll rates (it would cost $97.20 for a five-axle vehicle to traverse the 311-mile route) as well as the commission’s proposed reconstruction program for I-80 and public comments received at a series of public meetings along the I-80 corridor.

Public comments ranged from people concerned about traffic diverting to local roads to how a tolled I-80 would affect the economy within the corridor.

OOIDA officials remain engaged in the fight against the tolling of existing interstates.

“We would be very supportive of the transportation secretary and the FHWA rejecting this application. We’ve been saying for a year and a half now that Pennsylvania needs to go back to the drawing board and take a look at how they fund transportation programs to begin with,” OOIDA Senior Government Affairs Representative Mike Joyce told Land Line.

“Clearly, Pennsylvania is having a tough time fitting a square peg in a round hole. The pilot program that they want to fit I-80 tolls into is narrow and defined in scope.”

The addendum by turnpike officials is part of a process that began in July 2007 with the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s passage of enabling legislation known as Act 44.

Act 44 authorized Pennsylvania officials to submit an application with FHWA in October 2007, seeking approval to toll I-80.

FHWA officials sent that application back to Pennsylvania officials in December with more than a dozen questions and requests for more information.

While transportation officials prepared over a seven-month period to resubmit the application, Gov. Ed Rendell announced in May that a Spanish-American consortium had bid $12.8 billion to lease the east-west Pennsylvania Turnpike and keep the tolls for 75 years.

Rendell’s proposed lease stalled in a legislative committee as the General Assembly session recessed for the summer.

Turnpike officials resubmitted their I-80 tolling application on July 17.

Gov. Rendell sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters on July 21, urging her to support the I-80 tolling application.

Highway users continue to fight both the proposed lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the tolling of Interstate 80.

The Americans for a Strong National Highway Network, a coalition of highway users that includes OOIDA, sent a letter to Peters on Aug. 18, urging her to reject the I-80 application.

Coalition officials stated that I-80 does not meet enough criteria to be part of the FHWA’s Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program – a program that authorizes up to three existing interstates to be tolled.

One of the criteria is that tolling be a last resort after other funding mechanisms were exhausted.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials stated in a 2005 report that the state could operate, maintain and improve I-80 without tolling.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission officials, meanwhile, believe I-80 fits into the program, saying that tolling I-80 will “demonstrate to Congress the broader potential of this approach in helping solve the looming issue of how to finance the reconstruction of the nation’s aging Interstate System.”

Pennsylvania Turnpike officials continue to accept public comments on the issue of tolling I-80. Click here to access an online comment form.

– By David Tanner, staff writer