Pennsylvania state rep speaks out against I-80 tolls

| 8/6/2009

A state lawmaker representing two I-80 corridor counties in Pennsylvania is standing with truckers and an anti-toll coalition against a resurrected proposal to toll the interstate.

Rep. Dick Stevenson, a Republican representing Mercer and Butler counties, opposes recent statements by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission that the previously rejected application for tolling authority will soon be resubmitted to the federal government.

“In my view, it would be economically damaging to an area of the state that can ill afford it at this time. The effects of tolling that road during this recessionary period could be devastating,” Stevenson told Land Line.

“It was bad enough when it was proposed a couple of years ago, but in these economic times it would place an extreme hardship on individuals and businesses along the corridor.”

With the Turnpike Commission’s resumed effort to refile the application with the Federal Highway Administration, the pushback has also re-emerged.

“There’s a group that’s gotten together all across the corridor. It’s a combination of Chamber of Commerce and business groups and so forth that were formed during the last attempt at tolling,” he said. “They’ve been re-formed now. The arguments remain the same, the ones I’ve outlined, as well as the concern that the money from these tolls may not go back in full to the corridors from which these tolls come.”

OOIDA has had a dog in the fight since the state law known as Act 44 was debated, passed and signed into law in 2007.

Act 44 gave the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission control of I-80 and granted permission to seek tolling authority from FHWA. The feds rejected the first tolling application a year ago, but the Commission has taken up a renewed interest to generate transportation dollars.

OOIDA members and staff have attended field hearings on the subject and helped organize a rally of truckers and lawmakers in the capital of Harrisburg.

OOIDA Legislative Affairs Director Mike Joyce said tolling a federal interstate would be a double tax for truckers and other highway users.

“Rep. Stevenson understands the dramatic impact that tolling I-80 would have on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Joyce told Land Line.

“The economy of Pennsylvania cannot absorb another cost, or barrier, in creating jobs and growing business opportunities. Another tax/toll on highway users that are moving our commerce during this difficult economic time is completely unjustifiable. We thank Rep. Stevenson for his continued efforts opposing the effort to toll I-80.”

Another component of Act 44 is that a portion of toll proceeds from I-80 tolls is paid into a fund to support mass transit programs in Philadelphia and Pittsburg.

Stevenson’s rural constituents do not see eye-to-eye with the state on that issue.

“(I-80 is) used by local businesses, folks transporting goods, it’s used by people going back and forth to work. It’s just a major lifeline through that corridor, and to impose tolls would be very difficult for those communities to absorb,” Stevenson said.

If tolling is to be used anywhere, he said, it needs to be evenhanded.

“I’m not advocating that, but if you’re going to do it, at least be fair-minded about it,” Stevenson said.

At the time of this posting, the state House and Senate were embroiled in budget negotiations. Pennsylvania is one of the last states to complete a budget this year.

Stevenson said he is opposed to increasing taxes, including fuel taxes, at this time to pay for transportation.

– By David Tanner, staff writer