By on November 9, 2009

"With 59 existing interchanges, there will be, on average, one toll collection facility for every 5-6 interchanges, allowing many local trips to remain free. The PTC will offer discounts of 10, 15 or 20 percent to their commercial E-ZPass customers that meet established volume requirements for travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike." (courtesy

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).


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12 Comments on “Pennsylvania Resurrects Plan to Toll Interstate 80 Freeway...”

  • avatar
    new caledonia

    Sure, no problem. Feel free to put toll booths on I-80.

    First, just pay us back for building it.

    With interest.

  • avatar

    “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,”

    I guess reducing spending by $473 million next year is just out of the question.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t the interstate highway system built with the “highway trust fund” (from fuel taxes).  Oh that’s right, Congress has raided the “highway trust fund” for balancing the budget on other things.  The “trust” has been broken.  Here’s a clever idea: if Congress claim to assess a tax for some purpose (highways) then the funds can ONLY be used for highways.  If there isn’t enough money to build/maintain the highways then it can clearly be seen that the fuel taxes need to be raised.  If the “trust” fund has a surplus, then the fuel taxes need to be lowered.  The real problem is that their isn’t much “trust” by the voters that the money is being used for its original stated purpose.

  • avatar

    Maybe I’m a bit slow here…but how exactly could a state put up tollbooths on a highway that federal tax dollars built?

  • avatar

    Probably the same way that local police are allowed to patrol (and ticket) on highways that go through municipalities. Ohio, I’m looking at you…

  • avatar

    This state government reminds me of Jabba the Hut: Grotesquely obese and increasingly hungry. Only in this case it’s our tax dollars.

  • avatar

    Highway robbery.

  • avatar

    Between this nonsense and the gambling rollout, Fast Eddie has been somewhat of an embarrassment to Pennsylvania’s Democrats.

  • avatar

    I live in Pennsylvania and occasionally travel up to Ohio.  What I notice is that the Pennsylvania Turnpike is very expensive per mile and hideously maintained.  Cross the border to Ohio and the road smooths out AND costs significantly less per mile, too.  And Ohio has very nice rest areas while Pennsylvania does not.
    Where does the money of Pennsylvanians go?  Until they straighten out the Turnpike mess I don’t see expanding the number of tollways as a good idea.

  • avatar

    They’re not, hence the FHWA opinion.  The cases where Interstates are tolled are where the Interstate was a previously existing highway upgraded to Interstate standards.  (Incidentally, the same grandfathering also applies to having staffed rest stops with real services, gas, food, etc.)  Virginia’s state road 895 was intended to be I-895, but about $9 million of the $300 million plus preliminary engineering was paid for by federal funds, and it was always intended to be tolled, so it’s not called I-895 as a result.
    The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is asking for special dispensation.
    @David Dennis:
    Yes, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is widely regarded as one of the worst-run turnpike or toll road authorities, public or private, in the country, wasting money right up there with the Mass Pike.  Both are more about the patronage jobs.
    Incidentally, for people who fear privatization above all, the Act 44 referred to is part of the effort to avoid having to privatize the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.  Quite a few private companies have to take over the tolling operation of the Turnpike and do it more efficiently, and agree not to raise tolls.  The legislature balked at that idea, and decided that there was a preferred way (for them) to raise extra road funds and make the Turnpike Commission show a profit– give it a lease over I-80 and the power to toll it as well.  They’d rather have the Turnpike Commission be a public tolling monopoly.

    So you see, the Turnpike Commission is planning to toll I-80 because they can’t get their financial house in order, instead of getting their finances straight being a precursor to running other roads. Their failure is directly leading to them getting more power.

  • avatar

    There is some movement in my state (Wyoming) to do this to our stretch of I-80.  A few voices (a few greedy & short-sighted voices, IMO) in state legislature have been calling for tolls through Wyoming.  Our current governor – who took some getting used to being from the hyperbole associated with my former state’s governor – has a pretty realistic outlook summed up as: “The interstate is a federal road, let the feds figure it out.  Anything done here will just be a mess and hurt the transportation industry and the state as a whole”  I’m actually glad that we have someone that at least at first blush has enough political stamina to dismiss out of hand legislators that are all for cash grabs.  I don’t agree with everything our governor does, but I’m board with this one.  He seems to have as dim of a few of legislators motivations as the citizens do.
    Here’s a relevant article:

  • avatar

    I thought toll roads were built with revenue bonds..

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