House I-80 Coalition Continues Fight Against Tolls Urges Top Federal Official to Deny Revised Tolling Application
8/21/2008
Republican House members along the Interstate 80 corridor continued their fight against tolls on the 311-mile highway today by urging U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters to deny the application by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to toll the interstate.
 
The letter to Secretary Peters was signed by Reps. Russ Fairchild (R-Union/Snyder), Sam Smith (R-Jefferson/Indiana/Armstrong), Karen Boback (R-Columbia/Luzerne/Wyoming), Michele Brooks (R-Crawford/Mercer/Lawrence), Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango/Butler), Fred McIlhattan (R-Clarion/Armstrong), David Millard (R-Columbia), Merle Phillips (R-Northumberland/Snyder), Kathy Rapp (R-Forest/McKean/Warren), Brad Roae (R-Crawford), Richard Stevenson (R-Butler/Mercer), and Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin).
 
The members specifically cited new updates since the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) returned the original application with numerous deficiencies last December and emphasized continuing concerns about the tolling application and its impact on the local, regional and state economies. The Turnpike Commission resubmitted the revised application for Phase I approval for inclusion in the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program in late July and is now with the federal government for consideration.
 
The members also pointed out that there are other proposals on the table for highway funding, which is a key component in the federal government’s evaluation of the tolling application. One proposal would gradually shift funding for the state police out of the Motor License Fund, which funds highway improvements, and the proposal to lease the turnpike would generate nearly $1.1 billion per year, more than twice the amount generated by the I-80 toll proposal.
 
“We understand that the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program is intended to enable a state to conduct needed reconstruction and rehabilitation that could not otherwise be accomplished without the collection of tolls,” the members noted. “Based on the intention of the federal pilot program and the lease option currently available to Pennsylvania, how can the submitted application meet these eligibility criteria?”
 
The letter reiterated the fact that a 2005 tolling study – conducted in part by the Turnpike Commission – concluded that the initial impetus for converting I-80 to a toll road no longer existed, and it recommended that tolling of I-80 not be pursued at that time.  
 
The members also were concerned about the level of input local economic development agencies had regarding the revised application. One of the deficiencies cited by the FHWA was a lack of input and involvement from these organizations. Before the application was resubmitted, a Turnpike Commission consultant contacted local chambers of commerce and economic development agencies in seeking only generic economic and demographic information through brief phone conversations. An alarming omission in this proposed collection of data was no mention of increased costs to the local businesses and industries, potential job loss, and only a cursory effort to meet with local business owners to hear firsthand accounts about potential negative economic costs.
 
“We have known from the very beginning that tolling I-80 would have a devastating financial impact on local companies. Not only will trucking companies be faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra costs that will hurt businesses all along the corridor, but that expense will ultimately be passed along to consumers and residents who are already struggling with increased prices for goods and services. Our region will not be competitive, and industry will take their business and their jobs elsewhere,” the members said.
 
In addition, members pointed out concerns about heavy truck traffic diverting to secondary roads to avoid the tolls. Not only is safety a tremendous factor to consider, but local municipalities and taxpayers will be faced with higher costs to maintain their roads.
 
The letter also includes several questions the coalition has regarding the finances in the revised application, including the transfer of federal funds for mass transit purposes. The coalition believes that it is not in the best interest of the federal highway system to allow diversion of interstate funds to non-interstate projects and that the planned diversion of excess I-80 toll revenues from the I-80 highway, through a “smoke and mirrors” rental agreement with PennDOT, should not be permitted. It is wrong to implement excessive tolls on a highway and use the excess to fund projects in other parts of the Commonwealth.
 
Other concerns in the letter cited the mismanagement of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, its political patronage system and the hundreds of thousands of dollars on local advertisements to “sell” the tolling plan, along with the extraordinary efforts of the agency to fight the governor’s proposal to lease the toll road, including $280,000 to lobby the federal government.
 
“We concur that this inefficient, anachronistic agency should be the last choice to manage any additional highway systems,” the letter stated. “If the toll conversion of I-80 was contemplated between two private or even non-profit enterprises, the issue of anti-trust and lack of competition would likely be raised and reviewed by the appropriate state and federal agencies. These agencies enforce laws prohibiting mergers and business practices that seek to prevent and limit competition, attempts to monopolize and conspiracies in restraint of trade.”
 
The correspondence was also sent to Sens. Arlen Specter and Robert Casey, and Congressmen Chris Carney, Phil English, Paul Kanjorski and John Peterson.
 
House Republican Interstate 80 Coalition
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Jennifer Algoe Keaton
jkeaton@pahousegop.com
(717) 705-2094
Caucus site: www.PAHouseGOP.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 21, 2008
 
 
EDITOR’S NOTE: The letter, in its entirety, is included in a PDF format below . If the letter does not come through, please contact Jennifer Keaton at the number above for an electronic or hard copy of the correspondence.