I-80 Tolling Debate Begins Anew

June 2, 2009

The debate over tolling Interstate 80 began warming up last week, and with a curious twist.

It started with the appearance of PennDOT Secretary/Turnpike Chairman Allen Biehler before the House Democratic Policy Committee, where he revealed plans to meet with federal transportation officials to discuss resubmitting the I-80 tolling proposal.

The following day Governor Ed Rendell said he believes resubmitting the tolling proposal is futile.

“I told (Mr. Biehler) I thought it was a waste of time and he shouldn’t waste his energy on it,” the governor said in a Beaver County appearance, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s highway funding gap continues to head toward catastrophic dimensions. Act 44, the transportation funding measure approved nearly two years ago, assumed that the federal government would approve the tolling of I-80. Rejection of the tolling plan means a reduction of $300 million per year for highway projects beginning in the 2010-11 fiscal year, which could kick the total highway funding gap up past the $1 billion annual hole initially identified in 2006.

The events of last week immediately stirred I-80 tolling opponents. They include House Minority Leader Sam Smith, which is noteworthy in that he hails from Punxsutawney, which was the setting for the movie “Groundhog Day.” In that movie, a character played by Bill Murray becomes stuck in time and is doomed to repeat a tedious exercise until he finally gets it right.

“In the case of the highway funding issue, Pennsylvania has been stuck in the same place for quite a while,” said Jason Wagner, PHIA managing director. “’Getting it right’ will require a comprehensive, sustainable solution that not only eliminates the current funding gap, but provides the resources required for the kind of transportation system we need to have 10 years from now. Otherwise, we will be without an essential component for maximizing our economic prosperity and quality of life.”

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