Pennsylvania truckers protest I-80 tolls

| 9/25/2007

Truckers don’t find much sense in the Pennsylvania governor’s plan to toll Interstate 80 and increase tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by 25 percent in 2009.

After all, career truckers like OOIDA member Dorsey Musselman of Bedford, PA, have paid their share of fuel taxes and user fees over the years. Musselman, now retired, spent the better part of 41 years over the road.

After hearing about Gov. Ed Rendell’s transportation plan to put tolls on I-80 starting next year, Musselman and about two dozen other truckers jumped at the chance to attend an anti-toll rally Monday, Sept. 24, on the steps of the state capitol in Harrisburg.

“There’s ways not to use 80, but they’re not good truck roads,” Musselman, 70, told Land Line following the event.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association planned and hosted Monday’s event. OOIDA invited truckers, state and federal lawmakers against tolling, and interested business persons to speak about the economic ramifications the tolls – known to truckers as double taxation – would have in the state. Representatives from the national association of truck stop and travel plazas also spoke.

The event garnered television and print media attention throughout Pennsylvania.

Musselman takes it personally. He has a storied history on Pennsylvania highways, hauling fabric at one point in his career to all corners of the state.

He said that back in the 1950s, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was in its infancy and Interstate 80 was merely a concept. He said many people at that time were skeptical about “a road from nowhere to nowhere,” but the visionaries including President Eisenhower brought the nation’s first “superhighway” into existence anyway.

Since then, highway users have paid billions in taxes to drive on Pennsylvania roads. It bewilders a career highway user like Musselman why the state claims to be so broke.

The average truck driver, according to OOIDA, contributes more than $17,400 each year in taxes and user fees to the transportation fund.

Musselman says today’s truckers continue to pay ever-increasing fees, “And for what?”

“Right now, it’s a cash cow in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It appears our politicians want to milk it further.”

 “Back when the tolls were reasonable, you couldn’t afford not to run it,” Musselman said of the Turnpike. “Right now the Turnpike is around $100 to cross the state. That’s a little ridiculous and people are pushing for more.”

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Joseph Brimmeier told Land Line in August that any tolls on I-80 would mirror those on the Turnpike.

Musselman believes tolls on I-80 would push some truck traffic onto secondary roads, particularly east-west haulers.

The state legislature approved the toll plan in July as part of the transportation budget process. Hundreds of millions of dollars in the transportation budget – whether through tolls or bond financing – are earmarked for 73 mass transit projects in the state.

“Everything has its price, and it’s pretty hard not to out-price yourself,” Musselman said.

Musselman says although mass transit is needed for commuters – and he wouldn’t mind seeing more of it in his area – the diversion of funds from highways was not in the cards when highway user fees and fuel taxes were designed.

“That’s the killer part in all this,” he said. “We’re subsidizing these fat cats with a free ride to work, and it’s wrong ... It seems to be political savvy if you want to get elected.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer