By Jared Heuer, Clarion County Economic Development Corporation
The economic implications of tolls on key Interstate bridges in our region were the source of considerable strain and uneasiness within our business communities. In November of 2020, PA’s Public-Private Transportation Partnership (P3) had approved a new initiative to accelerate the reconstruction of major bridges in partnership with the private sector. Through the consideration of tolls, the Major Bridge P3 Initiative (MBP3) would have allowed for the delivery of projects through the P3 Program. In February 2021, nine bridges were selected for tolling including: I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges in Clarion County, and I-80 North Fork Bridges in Jefferson County.
The I-80 corridor remains an economic lifeline for Clarion County and it’s neighbors. Proximity to the interstate is key for businesses choosing to locate and/or expand in the region, so any hint of tolling along these roads and bridges is an immediate cause of concern. Opposition to this tolling proposal was generally universal.
In March, concerned community members from across PA created the No P3 Bridge Tolls Coalition. It stood opposed to the tolling of the bridges because of the effect it would have had on our local and statewide economy. Within our region, this Coalition was spearheaded by the Clarion Area Chamber, Clarion County Economic Development Corporation, Venango Area Chamber, and Jefferson County Development Council.
By the way of press releases, conferences, rebuttal letters, social media/marketing campaigns, community surveys, and a rally on the steps of the Capital Complex in Harrisburg, the Coalition advocated for the halt of the MBP3 Initiative. This grassroots campaign effectively raised our voices across the Commonwealth and made it clear that PA businesses and communities did not support this funding mechanism. On May 18, following a lawsuit issued out of Cumberland County, a Commonwealth Court issued a preliminary injunction to temporarily stop PennDOT from moving forward with the projects. One month later, that temporary injunction was made permanent, rendering the tolling plan dead.
With the threat of tolling behind us, remaining focused on the advocacy for sustainable funding solutions is the new target. Our bridges still require funding for rehabilitation or replacement, and our Coalition seeks to see that work is completed. The Coalition’s rebrand will position itself once again around raising the voices of PA businesses and communities toward the identification of funding solutions that work for Pennsylvanians. Working with PennDOT, our state legislators, and community members will ultimately bring about the best solutions, and we intend to be proactive in the identification of those solutions.
This article was published in the Venango Chamber’s September 2022 VenangoWorks! Newsletter.