(The Center Square) – A Pennsylvania congressman is pushing back against plans by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to install tolls on nine bridges throughout the commonwealth, pointing to public opposition and existing money available to fund bridge work.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is promoting the Major Bridge P3 Initiative to install tolls on nine major bridges as a necessary funding source to replace or repair the structures.
“Bridge tolling can provide the funds to repair or replace these costly bridges without using PennDOT’s current funding, which in turn allows those funds to be used for other roadway maintenance, operations and improvements,” according to the PennDOT website. “Tolling would be all electronic and collected by using E-ZPass or license plate billing. The funds received from the toll would go back to the bridge where the toll is collected to pay for the construction, maintenance and operation of that bridge.”
U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., who led a successful effort to kill similar tolls a decade ago, wrote a letter to PennDOT officials last week outlining why he opposes the bridge tolling plan, which he alleges is moving forward before proper public review.
“To make the public aware of the proposal, I have hosted a field hearing, telephone townhalls, and conducted surveys to solicit feedback from the public. According to my most recent survey, which was sent to more than 16,000 constituents in Jefferson County, nearly 90 percent of those who responded opposed tolling along the North Fork Bridges,” Thompson wrote.
Thompson pointed to public feedback PennDOT collected in November 2020 that showed similar results and questioned the need for tolls, as well as concerns about the agency’s ability to manage the money.
“My concerns remain that PennDOT has reached the foregone conclusion that tolls are required, despite not having conducted studies on safety, traffic diversion, local impacts, anticipated revenue or duration of tolling contracts, environmental impacts, or a host of other necessary items to make such a major policy decision,” he wrote. “Coupled with the fact that the General Assembly has now passed legislation disapproving of the tolling plan, PennDOT should jettison the tolling plan.”
Thompson contends a recent meeting with Federal Highway Administration officials revealed PennDOT has been in consultation with the federal agency for more than a year and recently filed paperwork seeking more than $5 billion in financing for the projects before reviewing public comment.
Thompson also cited a recent report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that PennDOT already has commissioned the Pennsylvania Turnpike to install gantries to collect tolls for the Major Bridge P3 Initiative.
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“Given previous performance issues, it is my concern that the Turnpike does not have the capacity to collect these funds, especially given media reports that the agency failed to collect more than $104 million in tolls during calendar year 2020,” Thompson wrote.
“While there is no doubt that Pennsylvania requires a reliable funding mechanism to maintain and replace existing infrastructure, the commonwealth collected more than $6.6 billion in revenue in November 2021, which is 3.4 percent higher than anticipated, leaving a $1 billion budget surplus,” he wrote. “Pennsylvania is expected to receive more than $18 billion from the recent federal infrastructure package, including $1.6 billion for bridge replacements. With these windfalls, PennDOT should exhaust all funding options prior to further exploring tolls.”
Victor Skinner writes for The Center Square.
This piece was originally published in The Center Square. Read the original article here.