I-80 Coalition in House Urges U.S. Secretary to Deny Tolling Application
12/10/2007
Members say I-80 users unable to afford tolls
 
In their ongoing fight to prevent Interstate 80 from being tolled, a coalition of 12 Republican members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters urging her to deny the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s application for tolling.
 
The 12-member coalition includes Reps. Russ Fairchild (R-Snyder/Union), Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin), Michele Brooks (R-Crawford/Lawrence/Mercer), Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), Scott Hutchinson (R-Butler/Venango), Fred McIlhattan (R-Clarion/Armstrong), David Millard (R-Columbia), Merle Phillips (R-Northumberland/Snyder), Kathy Rapp (R-Forest/McKean/Warren), Brad Roae (R-Crawford), Mario Scavello (R-Monroe) and Dick Stevenson (R-Butler/Mercer). All of these members represent districts that would be negatively impacted by the tolling.
 
“The placement of tolls on I-80 will have a dramatic and immediate negative economic impact on the residents and businesses in areas we represent,” the members wrote. “The tolling of I-80 will have residents in the corridor, who have a lower median household income paying more for commuting to work, gas, groceries, and other basic goods and services.”
 
On the existing mainline of the Turnpike, the median income is nearly $43,000, compared to just $35,284 along the I-80 corridor. The average median household income in the SEPTA service area and Port Authority in Allegheny County is $50,836.
 
“Many of our constituents, local business and industry leaders have asked questions and provided examples of the negative economic impact tolling I-80 will have on their lives and livelihood,” the letter stated. It also noted that people are concerned that tolling Interstate 80 will divert heavy traffic from the interstate highway to secondary roadways, accelerating wear, increasing local maintenance costs and decreasing safety.  

The members also asked Peters to consider the local negative economic impact of tolling the I-80 corridor will have on citizens and businesses. Tolling I-80 will increase the cost of doing business in the corridor, resulting in the loss of the competitive edge in the national and international marketplace, which will lead to a loss of jobs and income.

The coalition specifically cited the costs to one industry in particular: the manufactured housing industry, which would be devastated by the tolling of I-80. Tolls would likely add $3,000 to the cost of each house manufactured. This cost will be passed on to the customer, making it more difficult for Pennsylvania manufacturers to remain competitive.
 
The letter further goes on, clearing up a misconception that many of I-80’s users do not pay their fair share to maintain the highway. In fact, a single local independent trucking company reported that in 2006, the 50 trucks in his fleet paid $218,000 in fuel tax, $77,500 for license plates, $27,500 for combined use tax, plus additional taxes on tires. Tolling Interstate 80 will add $7,000 per week, or $364,000 per year, to his expenses. This more than doubles his cost of doing business.
 
The decision to toll I-80 will be made by the Federal Highway Administration. Under Act 44 of 2007, the Turnpike Commission has submitted a preliminary application seeking federal approval for inclusion of tolling I-80 in the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. One of three spots remains in the program.
 
In the letter, the members specifically asked Peters to consider the following items when making her decision:
 
A 2005 tolling study, prepared by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and assisted by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, concluded that the initial impetus for converting I-80 to a toll road no longer existed; the once deteriorated condition of I-80 has been corrected by PennDOT, and it recommended that tolling of I-80 not be pursued at this time. The coalition seriously questions why the change in policy and direction in just two years’ time.
 
A recent press report in the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre provides additional insight to the interest of the Turnpike Commission in tolling I-80, indicating that the turnpike is expected to lose money in the coming years as more and more traffic is diverted to a toll-free I-80.
 
The members and gubernatorial appointees of the Turnpike Commission are from the southeastern and southwestern parts of Pennsylvania, whose public transportation systems will greatly benefit from the increased revenue that Act 44 provides.
 
Other alternatives, such as leasing the current turnpike, can help provide necessary revenue for the Commonwealth. A Morgan Stanley report indicated a turnpike lease would generate $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion, up to twice the amount of funding provided under Act 44, without tolling I-80 or increasing bonded debt. 

The letter was also sent to Sens. Arlen Specter and Robert Casey, as well as Congressmen Chris Carney, Phil English, Paul Kanjorski and John Peterson, whose congressional districts are also impacted by the potential tolling.

 
House Republican Interstate 80 Coalition
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact: Jennifer Algoe Keaton
jkeaton@pahousegop.com
(717) 705-2094
Caucus site: PAHouseGOP.com