Plan adds toll booths
Conklin: House proposal puts plazas at N.J., Ohio borders
By Mike Joseph - firstname.lastname@example.org
A Democratic proposal for tolling Interstate 80, though still in flux, would likely locate toll plazas at the New Jersey and Ohio borders and probably would not impose fees on local drivers, state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, said Friday.
The proposal, advanced by Democratic Majority Whip Keith McCall, will be part of weekend negotiations to reach a compromise on how to pay for massive highway maintenance, bridge repair and mass transit needs next year and beyond. The state budget debate will resume Monday.
Under the proposal, Conklin said, toll booths would be located only at the Ohio and New Jersey ends of I-80 in Pennsylvania, where motorists entering the state would pay perhaps $2 per vehicle.
He said tolls would amount to user fees, targeting especially long-haul trucks that cross the state.
"It's a good plan," Conklin said. "I believe it's the best option we have without raising taxes."
The Associated Press quoted House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, as saying that two additional I-80 toll booths would be located in the middle of the state.
"Over the weekend I believe a variety of things will be discussed," DeWeese said.
"How many barriers -- and I believe it will be only four, one at each end of the state, two somewhere in the middle."
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, reformed to subject it to more oversight, would be responsible for collecting the I-80 tolls, and motorists who live within 30 miles of the toll stations would get a free pass, Conklin said.
I-80 is 311 miles long and threads 15 of the state's 67 counties, from the Delaware Water Gap Bridge in Monroe County to the Ohio border in Mercer County.
One-hundred of those 311 miles are in Centre, Clinton and Clearfield counties.
Motorists driving cars west on I-80 already pay a 75-cent bridge toll to cross the Delaware Water Gap Bridge into Pennsylvania. Trucks, depending on their size, pay $5 to $18. I-80 drivers also pay Ohio Turnpike tolls after they leave Pennsylvania.
"Pennsylvania is far behind on tolls," Conklin said.
The Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization, which sets priorities for state transportation spending in the county, has told Gov. Ed Rendell that if any interstate highway in addition to the turnpike is considered for tolling, then all interstate highways in the state should be considered.
The Democratic plan sponsored by McCall would also require local governments to increase their share of transit costs from 13 percent to 20 percent, a proposal that could have a heavy impact on the services and fares of the Centre Area Transportation Authority bus system.
State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said the McCall proposal is one of several coming forward in response to Rendell's favored option of leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a long term but requiring a big upfront payment to fund transportation needs.
Benninghoff said tolls for other interstates in Pennsylvania have also been considered.
"There's a lot of options on the table but unfortunately there's not a whole lot of details," Benninghoff said. He said the transportation funding issue need not be settled to pass a state budget in the coming two weeks.
"I find it very frustrating that this is being leveraged in the waning hours of the budget," he said. "We're being asked to make a significant policy change that will last for 20 years, but to make it in last 14 days of budget negations."
In the state Senate, majority Republicans are formulating their own transportation funding plan. They told The Associated Press they're unlikely to roll it out -- or vote on whatever the House might pass -- before the summer recess.