Coalition urges feds to reject I-80 tolls

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The Americans for a Strong National Highway Network, a coalition that represents users of the Interstate Highway System and the highway-based service industry, recently asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to reject a request from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for permission to toll Interstate 80. A letter addressed to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters states the proposal “is inconsistent with the provisions and spirit” of the federal pilot program that authorizes tolls on interstate highways.

The tolling application, submitted jointly by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, proposes to impose tolls on I-80 at nine collection points. Under the proposal, PennDOT would lease the highway to PTC, PTC would collect tolls, and the revenue would be used in part to pay “rent” to PennDOT, which would use the rent money for projects throughout the Commonwealth. Most of the remainder of the revenue would be used for I-80 maintenance and improvement projects, and for toll collection expenses.

The coalition argued in its letter the rental payments are not an eligible expense under the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, the federal pilot program that authorizes up to three states to toll a segment of their interstate systems. Congress limited expenditure of toll revenue to projects only on the tolled facility, according to the coalition.

The letter also points out that ISRRPP requires applicants to demonstrate that tolling is the only available source of revenue for making needed improvements. Tolls are just one potential option for funding highway projects discussed recently by Pennsylvania’s General Assembly.

Finally, recent statements by PTC claiming that toll collection facilities will be placed strategically so as to exempt 70 percent of local residents from paying tolls opens the door to potential legal action under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, according to the coalition letter. Furthermore, the letter says, this would violate the pilot program’s requirement that impacts on interstate users must be considered.