An official with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association participated in a transportation funding symposium Friday, Dec. 5, in Clarion, PA.
Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for OOIDA, was invited to participate by Clarion area officials concerned with the possibility of Interstate 80 becoming a toll road and/or the Pennsylvania Turnpike being leased to private investors.
“We’ve been in this fight since day one,” Joyce told Land Line following the symposium.
“Pennsylvania continues to be one of the lead states on transportation funding issues that other states are looking to for guidance. As many as 43 states could face budget deficits by the end of this year, and they all have transportation and infrastructure needs.”
Joyce said the tone of discussion was positive among the participants, which included lawmakers, economic development officials and transportation officials.
Joyce pointed out that less than one year ago, he attended a much more heated discussion on I-80 tolling and the possible lease of the turnpike. Neither one of those funding scenarios have made it to fruition as 2008 comes to an end.
“What was fascinating to me was that of these opinions that were so far apart last year, people are listening to each other more now,” he said.
“People want to work together and find solutions. There’s a common goal to fund transportation and fund infrastructure.”
People still have differences of opinion, he added, mainly in how to deal with Act 44, the current transportation law that allows Pennsylvania Turnpike revenue to be turned over to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for widespread transportation projects, including mass transit. Act 44 also authorizes the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to seek the conversion of I-80 into a toll road.
“Today, OOIDA asked the legislature to repeal all or parts of Act 44. I also suggested that they should dissolve the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and merge it into PennDOT,” Joyce said.
“The dialogue and the communication were good today, but the fact remains that Act 44 is still on the books and Act 44 is still the direction that people want to go in, and we need to continue to fight the war on these issues.”
Also presenting information at the symposium were retiring U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-PA; U.S. Rep. Elect Glenn Thompson, a Republican who was elected to replace Peterson in the state’s 5th District; state Sen. Mary Jo White, a Republican who represents the Clarion area; state Rep. Joseph Markosek, R-Allegheny-Westmoreland, chairman of the state House Transportation Committee; John Durbin representing Pennsylvania Transportation Partners, a consortium of Abertis of Spain and Citigroup of New York; Eric Funk of the Clarion County Economic Development Corporation; state Rep. Elect Donna Oberlander, a Republican representing Armstrong and Clarion counties; and Bill Petit, district executive for the Pennsylvania secretary of transportation.
Because Act 44 is still on the books, I-80 tolling remains a concern. Several participants in the forum spoke in favor of or against the proposal and acknowledged that it could surface again during the 2009 legislative session.
“The one thing that I didn’t hear was the need to reform the way current transportation dollars are spent today,” Joyce said.
“That’s where we really need to begin. But from last year to today, we’ve made a lot of progress. It’s important to carry the OOIDA flag through the finish of this thing.”
– By David Tanner, staff writer