By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor
The controversial state law that calls for annual toll increases on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, including one taking effect next week, continues to stick in the craw of highway users who want Act 44 to be repealed.
This is the law that also authorizes the diversion of millions of dollars to non-highway programs and calls for Interstate 80 to be converted into a toll road.
OOIDA and other groups, including a grassroots campaign in rural Pennsylvania, are hopeful the incoming governor and state Legislature will do the right thing in 2011 by repealing Act 44.
Truckers and others, which include small cities along the I-80 corridor, considered it a victory when both the Bush administration and Obama administration rejected multiple attempts by Pennsylvania to toll I-80.
The issue may seem dead but it has not totally been buried, says Brad Ehrhart, executive director of the Clarion County Economic Development Corporation.
“The law is still on the books, but the cornerstone of that law (I-80 tolls) has been knocked out by both the Bush and Obama administrations as being unlawful under federal law,” Ehrhart told Land Line in early December.
Federal Highway Administration officials repeatedly turned back Pennsylvania’s proposal because state officials could not prove that 100 percent of toll revenue would remain with the interstate.
I-80 was and is a big part of Act 44, but it’s not the only part that has had highway users up in arms.
Annual toll increases on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are making things tough on truckers, and the latest increase speaks to that. Starting Jan. 2, 2011, cash customers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike will pay 10 percent more while E-ZPass users will see a 3 percent hike.
OOIDA Senior Member Dorsey Musselman of Bedford, PA, who has been over-the-road since 1960, says he has had about enough.
“The tolls go up every year,” he said Wednesday, Dec. 29. “What can you do?”
The knowledge that millions of highway dollars are diverted each year to non-highway programs doesn’t sit well, either.
“It’s getting out of hand, and they’re blowing all the money over there,” Musselman said.
A lot of eyes are turning to the next state governor and Legislature.
Gov. Ed Rendell, who signed Act 44 into law in 2007, is preparing to leave office. Gov.-Elect Tom Corbett, who ran a no-nonsense campaign on issues of fiscal responsibility and reform, takes office in January.
Corbett, the former state attorney general, helped bust up patronage schemes and corruption scandals. One scandal involved the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
“He’s already promised not to raise taxes in Pennsylvania,” Ehrhart said. “I think that he will be doing all sorts of things to address the business climate in Pennsylvania. And from an economic development standpoint, I applaud that.”
OOIDA welcomes the chance to work with newly elected officials. The Association continues to work with groups like Ehrhart’s, with truckers like Musselman, and with elected officials to put pressure on the Act 44 issue.
“Until Act 44 is repealed, it will continue to penalize highway users with toll increases on the Turnpike, possible tolls on I-80, and the continuing diversion of highway money to non-highway programs,” said OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce.
“People like Brad Ehrhart in Clarion County understand the consequences of this law, and we stand with him in the fight to get Act 44 repealed.”
Click here to view Land Line’s interview with Brad Ehrhart recorded on Dec. 2.
Copyright 2010 by OOIDA