I-80 Delegation Meets with Federal Agency on Highway Tolling Proposal
12/18/2009
A dozen members from the Pennsylvania House and Senate who represent districts along the Interstate 80 corridor met with four high-ranking members of the Federal Highway Administration about their concerns regarding the tolling of the highway on Thursday during a meeting on Capitol Hill.
 
That agency currently is considering an application on behalf of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to toll the 311-mile highway.
 
 The meeting included Reps. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren/Forest/McKean), Michele Brooks (R-Crawford/Mercer/Lawrence), Mario Scavello (R-Monroe), Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong), Matt Gabler (R-Clearfield/Elk), Brad Roae (R-Crawford), Martin Causer (R-McKean/Cameron/Potter), Dick Stevenson (R-Mercer/Butler), Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango/Butler), Russ Fairchild (R-Union/Snyder), Merle Phillips (R-Northumberland/Snyder), along with Sens. Bob Robbins (R-Mercer) and John Gordner (R-Columbia) and Congressmen Glenn Thompson (R-Centre), Paul Kanjorski (D-Luzerne) and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Erie). Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Rep. Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) were represented at the meeting by staff members.
 
“We wanted to present to the FHWA an accurate portrayal of the hardships that are going to be undoubtedly faced by the people most affected by these tolls,” the legislators said. “There are going to be real people hurt, real jobs lost and real family-owned businesses and farms devastated by the imposition of tolls. We are here to convey the message from our constituents that tolling I-80 is poor public policy that punishes rural Pennsylvania in favor of more populated areas of the Commonwealth. This is an issue of economic fairness which puts our residents at a significant disadvantage.”
 
The legislators explained to the agency officials three main arguments why I-80 should not be tolled. First, each legislator explained the devastating financial impact tolling will have on their areas and cited numerous companies, manufacturers and industries that would reduce their workforces or close altogether. Transportation estimates range from the tens of thousands of additional dollars per business to upward of $1.2 million.
 
Those costs would be in addition to the expenses faced by local governments in terms of traffic diversion and the loss of economic activity and economic development opportunities. If I-80 is tolled, one of the corridor’s main selling points to new business, industry and expansion is lost.
 
Second, legislators explained the negative example that would be set if the Turnpike Commission’s application were to be approved, especially in light of the controversies, inefficiencies and alleged fraud occurring within the Turnpike Commission. Such an approval would set a dangerous precedent.
 
Third, members argued that the Turnpike Commission’s application does not meet the stringent criteria specifically set forth in federal law. The debt service on such a project would be unmanageable after the first few years and officials with both the Turnpike Commission and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) have publicly admitted that toll revenue would be directed to projects in other areas of the state and for urban mass transit systems. In fact, many of the so-called highway improvements targeted for I-80 and cited by the Turnpike Commission may not even be necessary.
 
Members requested that the FHWA consider all the facts when determining whether or not the Turnpike Commission’s application to toll I-80 meets the strict criteria set forth in the federal government’s Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.
 
The legislators believe this issue is so important to the residents of their communities that they missed legislative session on Thursday, which included Fairchild, who had a 21-year perfect attendance record.
 
“It was our goal to have FHWA officials listen carefully to our concerns, and that based on the information presented to them, their decision should be clear cut regarding the lack of merit the I-80 tolling application has,” members added. “We again respectfully asked for the application to be denied, and we are hopeful that they recognize how important it is to look at all of the facts presented and make their decision in the fairest way possible.”
 
Rep. Kathy Rapp
65th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

(814) 723-5203
(717) 787-1367
Member Site: RepRapp.com
Contact: Ty McCauslin
House Republican Public Relations
(717) 772-9979