DOT had 23.8 billion reasons to reject I-80 tolls

| 4/13/2010

The U.S. DOT had 23.8 billion reasons for rejecting Pennsylvania’s application to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road. That breaks down to one reason for every dollar in toll revenue that the state could have diverted to mass transit or other transportation programs.

In a letter to Gov. Ed Rendell dated April 6, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood outlined the federal government’s main reasons for denying the tolling application.

LaHood stated that the rules of the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program require that toll revenue remain with the roadway. LaHood acknowledged that the Pennsylvania state law known as Act 44 was established as a way for Pennsylvania Turnpike revenue to pay for transportation programs and that I-80 tolls would amount to more of the same.

“The clear intent of Congress with respect to the use of toll revenue under the ISRRPP is to ensure that the revenues are used solely for the purpose of reconstructing and rehabilitating the facility being tolled and not diverted to be used on other facilities,” Federal Highway Administration officials stated in an attachment to LaHood’s cover letter.

“It is evident that the intent of Act 44 is to raise funding for other statewide transportation needs. Since the I-80 lease arrangement authorized under Act 44 is designed to raise funding for other highway and bridge projects, we have concluded that the proposed lease payments violate the limitations on use of tolls set forth in ISRRPP.”

FHWA officials stated that Act 44 calls for approximately 25.3 percent of I-80 toll revenue – or $23.8 billion – to be spent on non-I-80 programs within the state as part of the 50-year agreement between the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and PennDOT.

OOIDA continues to be an outspoken opponent of such diversion of highway funds for non-highway uses.

– By David Tanner, associate editor