(The Center Square) – A bridge tolling project that would add user fees to nine bridges across Pennsylvania raised some eyebrows at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, but the state Department of Transportation argued it’s a crucial way to fund bridge and road upgrades. 

“We are moving forward with nine candidate bridges,” Secretary of Transportation Yassmin Gramian told the committee.

The bridges are called candidate bridges because PennDOT is still waiting for environmental approval and expects all bridges to be approved by mid-August 2022. Once approved, the bridges will then have 30-year tolling contracts on them, and the revenue will rehabilitate or replace the bridges tolled.

The bridges chosen are from across the commonwealth so as not to load one area with tolls:

  • I-81 Susquehanna River.
  • I-78 Lenhartsville.
  • I-80 Nescopeck.
  • I-80 White Haven.
  • I-80 Canoe Creek.
  • I-80 North Fork.
  • I-83 South Bridge.
  • I-79 Bridgeville.
  • I-95 Girard Point.

“This program will provide self-sustaining revenues to address major bridge deficiencies that might otherwise not be feasible with existing funding,” Gramian said in her written testimony. Excess toll revenues will be kept in the region where they are created, District 6 Executive Kenneth McClain said.

The bridge tolling program emphasized another issue the committee hearing focused on: declining revenues from the gas tax and the need for the commonwealth to find other stable revenue streams for its infrastructure.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about making sure the revenue capacity for transportation is vibrant and grows,” said Sen. Patrick M. Browne, R-Lehigh, the chairman of the appropriations committee. “The penetration of the electric car is real.”

As demand for gas falls, PennDOT’s funding is threatened.

“With more efficiency, we must focus on how to offset the drop in revenue to fund infrastructure,” said Sen. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna. 

The state and federal gas tax comprises 78% of PennDOT’s total funding, Flynn said.

Bridge tolling is one method to replace the lost revenue. Two other methods Gramian mentioned are new taxes: an e-vehicle mileage fee pilot program and a package or goods-delivery fee.

An e-vehicle fee has been considered in the Senate, Gramian said, but the bills of which they were a part did not become law. Gramian estimates that Pennsylvania could “easily generate $800 million on an annual basis” with a $1 tax on every package that’s delivered.

“We want to identify sustainable sorts of revenue that could go beyond five years,” Gramian said.

Browne said the General Assembly must “deal with the fact that revenue growth in the general fund is not growing fast enough.”

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

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