The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, NATSO Vice President of External Affairs Holly Alfano and Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., hosted a rally Monday, Sept. 24, in Pennsylvania calling for the repeal of state-approved tolls on Interstate 80.
Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, attended the rally at the commonwealth’s capitol in Harrisburg. Spencer says OOIDA is urging the Pennsylvania government to rethink plans to put tolls on the major highway. “It’s bad for small-business truckers,” he says. Spencer says some drivers in Pennsylvania told him they might have to drive elsewhere because they simply can’t afford the thousands of dollars they would have to pay in tolls.
Truckers already have user fees, and it costs $17,500 per truck in state and federal user fees, Spencer says. “There is nothing free about the roads we run on,” he says. “Pennsylvania has the highest diesel tax. So [lawmakers] are raising money, they just aren’t spending it on highways and bridges.”
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has a provision cutting off funding for tolls in an appropriation spending bill, and the Senate still must decide what to do with the provision.
NATSO is urging elected officials to consider the detrimental effect tolls on I-80 would have on interchange-based businesses. Tolls will divert traffic onto secondary roads, away from the interstate, which will impact businesses located at interstate exits around the country, where business owners have invested millions, the group says; by 2010, interchange-based businesses will employ more than 2 million Americans and generate nearly $200 billion in annual sales.
NATSO says the University of Maryland conducted a study in which it determined that in counties with toll roads, there are 50 percent fewer businesses on the interstate exits as compared with freeways. But Gov. Ed Rendell said in a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation news release that implementing tolls along I-80 would boost highway, bridge and public transit programs.
According to PennDOT, in a November 2006 report, the bipartisan Transportation Funding and Reform Commission recommended an annual investment of $1.7 billion a year to meet transportation needs for the Keystone State. Even at that level, the commission projected it would take 17 years to cut the percentage of structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania from 24 percent to the national average of about 11 percent.
Pennsylvania has more than 6,000 structurally deficient bridges, the most of any state in the nation, and nearly 9,000 miles of highways in poor condition. PennDOT estimates the cost of repairing all of the structurally deficient bridges at about $11 billion.