PA lawmakers urge FHWA to reject I-80 tolling

| 12/18/2009

A delegation of state and federal lawmakers from Pennsylvania is urging the Federal Highway Administration to reject a plan to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road.

“It is going to increase transportation costs, and the transportation companies are not going to be able to absorb those additional costs,” state Rep. Michele Brooks, R-Mercer County, told Land Line Now on Sirius XM.

“Those fees and costs are going to be transferred to the consumer purchasing the products. It’s also going to cost us jobs.”

The delegation was led by U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Republican, who was joined by U.S. Reps. Paul Kanjorski and Kathy Dahlkemper, both Democrats.

“Eleven representatives and two Commonwealth senators made the trip to Washington, despite the fact that they were in session in Harrisburg, in order to let the people who will make the decision on advancing the application for tolling I-80, know just how much this topic means to them and the people they represent,” Thompson said in a statement following the meeting.

The delegation met with four FHWA officials, including Deputy Administrator Greg Nadeau.

The public was not allowed in to the meeting, but OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce spoke with a number of the lawmakers in the hallway about what was said.

“They spent probably two hours briefing Federal Highway officials on the impact that tolling I-80 would have on their constituents,” Joyce said.

The lawmakers urged FHWA officials to ignore political pressure from Gov. Ed Rendell and other supporters of the tolling plan and evaluate the application on its merit. Tolling opponents believe the intent of the application filed by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is flawed.

“They can rewrite it all they want, but the merit of the application has not changed,” Brooks said in her interview with Land Line Now’s Reed Black.

“There’s some questions as far as the money received that they may already be collecting more money than what it takes to maintain I-80 as it is.”

Joyce said a number of lawmakers involved in the delegation have stood on OOIDA’s side during the process that began in 2007 with the state Legislature’s passage of Act 44.

“It was good to see these lawmakers that have been there with us since day one,” he said.

Lawmakers reported that the FHWA is evaluating the application and has not said when a decision would be made.

Under Act 44, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission was awarded operational control of I-80 with the intent to toll it. The Turnpike Commission is obligated under the law to pay millions per year to the state DOT with or without tolls on I-80.

Much of the debate centers around whether toll proceeds from I-80 would be siphoned away for mass transit or other uses. The Turnpike Commission says funds would have to stay with I-80, but federal funds that would have normally gone to I-80 as a toll-free road could be used to meet Act 44 obligations.

– By David Tanner, staff writer