Pa. applies again to toll I-80

Pennsylvania’s third application to ask federal permission to toll Interstate 80 was, as it has before, met with opposition and follows recent study findings that did not support tolling.

On Oct. 29, the state transportation department and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission made a formal response to a Federal Highway Administration memorandum issued last fall about the application to convert I-80 to a toll road, providing more financial details.

In 2007, the state legislature approved a measure meant to establish long-term funding for transportation. Among other things, it tasked the commission with providing annual lease payments to PennDOT in exchange for operating I-80 as a toll road. 

The Coalition to Keep I-80 Toll-free, which includes chambers of commerce and business groups in the I-80 region, released a study three weeks ago on the proposal by Tracy Miller, Grove City College associate professor of economics.

Using highway taxes data and vehicle miles traveled on I-80, Miller said users already pay more than the amount that PennDOT spends annually to maintain the freeway. Also, tolls will negatively affect many firms and workers living in the corridor and truckers will use less suitable roads to avoid the tolls.

A Turnpike spokesman did not return a request for comment on the study.

“Besides all of the other costs associated with tolls on I-80, the Turnpike commission has already incurred considerable debt and plans to incur additional debt of between $37 [billion] and $54 billion as they borrow to finance other highway improvements and mass transit using anticipated toll revenues,” Miller wrote. “Reapplying for permission to impose tolls will enable them to continue to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars each year for several more years before they can collect any revenue from tolls on I-80.”

On the opposite end of the country, some Wyoming legislators are considering a law that would direct the statefs transportation department to develop a plan to toll the I-80 there. The transportation department was given tolling authority and will work on a tolling plan to present to the legislature in 2011.