Editor’s Note: After we posted this Tolling in America Blog, Car and Driver posted an article with a headline question:
Can You Name the World’s Most Expensive Toll Road? and guess what? It is the great state of Pennsylvania!
Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation decided this month to place tolls on nine bridges located on six interstates. The bridges were selected due to how much it will cost to repair or replace and to balance out the toll impact based on geography. PennDOT claims this is part of its study on exploring sustainable transportation funding methods and completing critical projects. The project name is PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3). PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramain said recently,
“Our reliance on funding models from the last century leaves us especially vulnerable to fund losses stemming from volatile economic conditions and the increasing transition to alternative-fuel or electric vehicles. This initiative will help us make much-needed improvements without compromising the routine projects our communities and industry partners rely on.”
The Public-Private Transportation Partnership board had already approved a plan involving tolls in November. This was the first time the board approved such a thing since a 2012 law was created that requires no additional legislative approval for such matters. What?
Yeah…some folks are not happy! Trucking industry associations oppose it (so does the National Motorists Association). Several Republican state senators are sponsoring a resolution to stop it since there is no public input. Senate Transportation Committee Chair Wayne Langerholc Jr. recently gave another concern, “PennDOT’s authority to essentially tax and appropriate funds without additional oversight from the General Assembly.”
Infrastructure is expensive, and it seems especially so in Pennsylvania, which already has some of the country’s highest gasoline taxes. In 2013, a law was passed that raised taxes and fees directly impacting motorists to boost highway funding by about 50 percent or more than $2 billion per year. Currently, PennDOT’s highway and bridge construction and maintenance budget is less than half of the $15 billion needed.
Here is the list of the bridges that will carry a future toll:
- Allegheny County: I-79 Widening, Bridges and Bridgeville Interchange Reconfiguration
- Berks County: I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project
- Clarion County: I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges; I-80 Nescopeck Creek Bridges
- Dauphin County: I-83 South Bridge Project
- Jefferson County: I-80 North Fork Bridges Project
- Luzerne and Carbon Counties: I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project
- Philadelphia County: I-95 Girard Point Bridge Improvement Project
- Susquehanna County I-81 Susquehanna Project
As part of this ongoing PennDOT evaluation process, the conclusion has been that bridge tolling will provide funds to reconstruct or replace these bridges without depleting the agency’s other existing funding for other roads and bridges. Tolls will be electronic and collecting using E-Z Pass or license plate billing, and supposedly the tolls collected on these bridges will go back to the construction and maintenance of that bridge.
Another interesting development to PennDOT funding mysteries will be the loss of turnpike revenue on July 1, 2022. Currently, under the PA Act of 2007, the Turnpike Commission is required to fork over $450 million annually to PennDOT. When the act expires in 2022, that obligation will drop to $50 million annually. The NMA and OOIDA lost a lawsuit concerning this obligation. The money going to PennDOT has nothing to do with fixing or maintaining roads and bridges but goes to other mobility and transit projects. Since 2007, the Turnpike Commission has given over $7 billion in funding.
What happens when that funding goes away?
In a Fayette County Herald-Standard Op-Ed, the writer not only wondered if state lawmakers would try to extend the act but also asked two questions:
- From what sources will lawmakers obtain funds to fill the financial gap resulting from the $450 million yearly reduction in the turnpike’s obligation?
- Will the additional $450 million annually in the turnpike’s bank account provide a window for stabilizing the toll road’s toll structure or even allow a small toll reduction eventually (already costs over $50 to cross the state via the toll road)?
Perhaps the answer lies in the Pathways Bridge P3 project—begin tolling bridges that need repair and all other roads too, perhaps?
Even tougher times ahead for motorists in Pennsylvania, it seems.
How much more can Pennsylvania motorists bear, and how will all of this impact other roads and bridges? Please comment below or on the NMA Facebook Page.