Pennsylvania’s Bid to Toll I-80 Rejected by Feds

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) has scheduled a press conference this afternoon to discuss his pitch for new tolls on Interstate 80, but local media reports are already suggesting that his news is not good: the federal government has rejected the state’s bid to toll the highway, leaving its transportation budget short at least $450 million.

800px_I_80__PA__map.svg.pngThe route of Pennsylvania’s I-80, shown in red. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Tolling I-80, which cuts across the center of the Keystone State (see image at right), was intended to raise funds for transit expansion as well as road and bridge maintenance.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which runs rail and bus service in the Philadelphia metro area, projected that the loss of I-80 toll revenue would force it to cut more than 25 percent of its capital budget for next year, or $110 million. SEPTA indicated it would not cut service if the Obama administration rejected I-80 tolling, but a fare increase is already on the table.

The U.S. DOT did not immediately return a request for comment on the reported rejection of I-80 tolls. The issue had split the state’s political leadership, with Rendell serving as the plan’s chief supporter and several Pennsylvania House Democrats imploring the agency to reject the governor’s request. Sens. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA), meanwhile, declined to take a public position.

Rendell’s expected loss in the tolling battle is likely to dim the prospects of levying fees on interstate drivers to help pay for the next long-term federal transportation bill, which remains stalled in Congress due in large part to a lack of support for several financing methods.

In addition, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today that regional clashes may soon erupt over where the state should cut its road and bridge repair budget:

"People talk about having a Plan B to replace the I-80 toll revenue, but Act 44 [the 2007 that assumed new tolls would provide future transport funding] was our Plan B,” Mr. Markosek said.

"Now we need Plan C — C standing for cuts," said [state] Rep. David Levdansky, D-Forward.

He said PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler should draw up a list of
road and bridge projects that will have to be eliminated due to a lack
of funds. He said the projects to be cut should come from northern
Pennsylvania, since people who use the turnpike are paying hefty tolls
but those who use I-80 aren’t paying tolls and many lobbied against
them.

Late Update: The headline on this post has been edited to reflect the official rejection of Pennsylvania’s bid, which came down from the U.S. DOT this evening. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued a statement noting the state’s receipt of $1.4 billion in federal stimulus funds and stating that his agency "based today’s decision on what is allowable under federal law."

The law in question, 1998’s six-year federal transportation authorization bill, created a pilot program for tolling existing interstate highways, provided that the revenue raised from the fees go entirely towards improvements on the tolled road. Pennsylvania proposed, by contrast, to use its I-80 toll receipts for statewide projects, including transit.

  • It’s about time someone tells Pennsylvania’s politicians the fun is over. The corruption on the turnpike,at SEPTA,at the transit authority’s of Pittsburgh and all the other cities are so over staffed with over paid, lazy, politically hooked up staffers that have been stealing from taxpayers of Pa. for a lifetime. Kick these bums out and run Pa. like a business not a cesspool of political corruption.

  • If you want to help fund SEPTA via road tolls, toll a facility within SEPTA’s oprating area. This was purly a grab at using I-80 as a cash cow, and was rightfully denied.

  • Why not do what St. Louis just did. Have a sales tax increase of 1/2 cent in the counties that have SEPTA service to directly fund transit.

  • Brandi

    Well that closes off a lot of options for potential funding sources. It would have been a good way to fund roads and transit while discouraging unecessary driving. Pennsylvania is in Bad place now for transit funding. Septa has been shrinking their services since the 70s and this will surely make it worse. Forget any plans of restoring old services for the next decade. I say legalize gambling. O wait we already did that. Time to raise the gas tax.

  • Pitt paul

    Unfortunately, the people who depend on public transit PAT, SEPTA, etc) to get to work are the ones that will suffer. Also, I heard on the radio today that public bus service in towns like Altoona and Scranton are going to be drastically cut.

    A lot of the traffic on I-80 consists of long haul trucks passing through Pa on their way to NY and New England. So we southwestern PA folks get to continue maintaining I-80 for those folks as well as the hundred or so people taht actually live along the I-80 corridor? Thanks a hundred DOT.

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