U.S. Representative Glenn “GT” Thompson on Dec. 15 hosted a meeting with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to voice his concerns over the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) plan to toll nine major bridges throughout Pennsylvania. Rep. Thompson said it was revealed during the meeting that PennDOT has been in consultation with FHWA for more than a year and recently filed paperwork expressing its interest in receiving more than $5 billion in financing for the projects.
“Several lawsuits have been filed across the Commonwealth, suggesting that PennDOT has not followed its own guidelines for public comment. Tuesday’s meeting with the Federal Highway Administration confirmed that PennDOT had been talks with the federal government for nearly a year prior to even being authorized to look at tolling,” Rep. Thompson said. “PennDOT is merely providing lip service to public input and has always been moving towards tolling, regardless of feasibility, public safety, or economic sense. This is a betrayal of the public trust and it must be stopped.”
PennDOT has proposed implementing tolls on bridges in nine counties that carry Interstates 78, 79, 80, 81, 83 and 95.
Rep. Thompson, a strong opponent of tolling interstates was instrumental in convincing the FHWA to deny the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission the ability to tolling Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania nearly a decade ago. The turnpike is installing gantries to collect tolls for PennDOT along the nine bridges.
“I’m not sure what’s more shocking: the fact that the Pennsylvania Turnpike failed to collect $104 million in tolls last year, or that PennDOT knows this and still wants to put the fox in charge of guarding the hen house,” Rep. Thompson said in a statement to media.
The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, of which NATSO is a founding member, strongly opposes the Pennsylvania bridge tolls. ATFI on Nov. 17, 2021, filed public comments opposing the use of tolling to fund the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s on five of the projects, which had open public comment periods.
ATFI said in its comments that tolls will impose onerous costs on small businesses as well as their employees. The tolls also will double tax motorists who already pay for Interstate highways through the motor fuel taxes they pay each time they fill up their gas tank.
A bill to void the plan to add tolls on nine Pennsylvania bridges to fund their repair or reconstruction passed the Pennsylvania state House Nov. 16 although the legislation requires one more Senate vote, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is opposed. State representatives voted 125-74 for a proposal that would require legislative approval of specific proposals to add tolls.
NATSO member Onvo in April submitted a letter to the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee opposing the bridge tolls in advance of a Committee hearing.
In its letter, Onvo said, “It cannot be overstated how negatively PennDOT’s Major Bridge P-3 program would hurt our company.” If PennDOT implements the bridge tolls, Onvo estimates that business will decline as much as 50 percent or more as customers divert onto non-tolled routes.
ATFI also testified at a field hearing hosted by U.S. Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson and members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in Clarion, Pennsylvania, to examine PennDOT’s P3 Major Bridge Tolling Proposals.
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