Tolling existing interstates amounts to double taxation for truckers and is not in the best interest of highway users, a coalition of protestors said Monday, Sept. 24, from the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.
Twenty-five professional truckers, including many members of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, took valuable time away from their jobs to attend the rally organized by U.S. Rep. John Peterson in conjunction with the Association to protest a proposal by Gov. Ed Rendell and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road.
Departing by bus from the truck lot at the nearby TravelCenters of America in Harrisburg, the members and speakers for the event were soon joined on the steps by Peterson, R-PA, several state officials and representatives from Natso.
OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer introduced Peterson and other speakers by stating that truckers already pay their share to use the highways.
Peterson began an impassioned speech against the tolling proposal by asking the audience why truckers might organize such a rally on the steps of the state capitol.
“Because they are going to be impacted first,” Peterson said. “They will feel the first pain. They will pay the first tolls.”
Rendell’s state budget and transportation funding plan, known as Act 44 – part of HB1590 approved by the state legislature in July – calls for new I-80 tolls, increased tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and more authority for bond debt to pay for transportation programs including highways, bridges and mass transit.
Peterson is calling for the repeal of Act 44.
“Under Act 44, the round-trip toll on I-80 will start at $51 for a car and $308 for a truck and will grow to $66 and $400, respectively,” he said.
“Tolling I-80 should not be the bail out for past mismanagement of our transportation spending.”
Holly Alfano, vice president of external affairs for Natso, which represents a $50-billion industry of truck stops, restaurants and travel plazas, said new tolls on an existing highway would be catastrophic for the economy.
“As Americans we should be concerned that this about-face in policy will compromise our mobility, commerce and even national security,” Alfano said. “Everyone benefits from a national highway system. As most goods are delivered by truck, roads fuel the nation’s economy.”
Peterson appeased those in attendance by stating what many Pennsylvanians believe is the obvious thing to do.
“I think the first thing we have to do is stop using highway money for anything other than highways,” Peterson said.
OOIDA’s Spencer summed up the issue for the average consumer by relating tolls to being charged double for a fast-food meal.
“Imagine going to a drive-through restaurant, and after having paid at the first window, the second window’s operator says, ‘Oh, by the way, while you were between the first and second windows, we used one-third of the money you just spent for something else instead of going toward your order, so we need more money for your food,’” Spencer said. “That is essentially what’s proposed by adding tolls to federal highways.”
– By David Tanner, staff writer