Pennsylvania toll increase the next chapter in diversion

| Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Truckers and motorists will soon be paying more to subsidize mass transit programs in Pennsylvania once a 3 percent toll increase takes effect on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

A controversial state law that was passed in 2007 authorizes the toll increase, which is scheduled to take effect Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010, and authorized a similar increase a year ago.

The law, known as Act 44, is the same one that requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to pay billions to the state DOT to fund other roadways and mass transit programs in the state. Act 44 is also the driving force behind the push to toll Interstate 80.

OOIDA opposes the diversion of highway taxes including tolls for purposes other than improving the highway and bridge network. The Association has called repeatedly for lawmakers to repeal Act 44.

“In this instance, it’s clear that political expediency trumps sound transportation policy,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line.

“This very practice of diversion is a reason that Pennsylvania and many other states are hurting for highway and bridge dollars to begin with.”

Act 44 has already cleared the way for $2 billion in Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls to improve 980 miles of roadway, replace 92 bridges and boost mass transit programs.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Dec. 29, Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier said the toll increase will allow the commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to continue on with the intent of the law.

“This increase will allow PennDOT to boost infrastructure investment, improving highway smoothness and safety and ensuring the continued operation and enhancement of the state’s public-transit systems,” Brimmeier stated. “As a result, income from this toll increase can help stimulate our economy and generate jobs throughout Pennsylvania.”

Turnpike Chief Engineer Frank Kempf said that despite the funding boost for the state, Act 44 has left the Turnpike Commission with some heavy lifting.

“While the burden of helping to fund transportation statewide is heavy lifting, we remain focused on our mission of operating a safe, efficient toll-road system,” Kempf stated.

“In fact, we’re continuing a robust plan for maintaining and improving our existing system, spending nearly $400 million on roadway and bridge capital projects this fiscal year alone.”

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