Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell (D) has not given up on his dream of adding toll booths on Interstate 80, a freeway that serves as a vital commercial link between New York and Chicago. On October 30, state officials filed an official memorandum to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reopening the application for permission to toll the 311 mile route in order to help balance the state’s budget. “Without tolls on I-80, state lawmakers and the administration would have to plug a $473 million gap in next year’s budget, and that gap will steadily widen,” Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Chief Executive Joe Brimmeier said in a statement.
In July 2008, the FHWA explained that the governor’s plan did not appear to meet the requirements of federal law for conversion of a federal interstate into a toll road. The state’s new filing with federal transportation officials included further details on the proposal, such as planned locations for electronic toll booths and an extensive financial analysis. The deal, authorized at the state level by Act 44 of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, faces an uncertain future as a number of key political players remain unconvinced that the Turnpike Commission should expand its reach to previously untolled roads.
“This is the same Turnpike Commission that has been the backdrop for several scandals and a slew of indictments,” US Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-Howard) explained in a statement. “Act 44 is a cover-up of years of mismanagement of taxpayer funds and the perpetuation of an antiquated and corrupt Turnpike Commission. This is not fair to the taxpayers in Pennsylvania — not just along the I-80 corridor, but in the commonwealth as a whole.”
An opinion poll taken last year found that 63 percent of voters agreed with Thompson’s assessment. A coalition of business groups, the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling, formed to coordinate efforts to block the tolling plan.
“There are simply better options that will generate more money with less hardship,” coalition co-chairman Vince Matteo said in a statement. “The bottom line is that once gantries are up on I-80, local businesses and communities will be crippled and a harsh inflationary rise will be felt throughout the entire commonwealth economy.”
A Grove City College study calculated last month that a 10 cent gas tax increase would raise $600 million at a cost of just 0.5 cents per mile for an average automobile — far cheaper than the per-mile rate of a toll road that requires expensive overhead to operate (view study).