Earlier in my career, while serving in the House of Representatives, those of us in Western Pennsylvania faced a threat to our pocketbooks and bottom lines in the form of a toll on Interstate 80. Residents and business owners quickly realized how devastating this new tax would be to those who regularly use the freeway for travel or commerce and successfully fought the plan.
Unfortunately, it seems we may be facing a renewed backdoor effort to tax the use of freeways in the form of socalled “user fees” on interstate bridges. With minimal public notice and practically zero stakeholder outreach, a sevenmember board, chaired by the Secretary of Transportation, voted to approve an initiative that could begin tolling interstate bridges throughout PA, including on I-80 and I-79.
If implemented, this would increase the cost of living in Northwest PA where periodic interstate travel is a necessity for many residents, and it would increase shipping costs for businesses and consumers. Northwest PA’s economy is on tenuous footing already, especially as we recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Yet another cost of doing business is the last thing we need.
Of course, I recognize the importance of safe roads and bridges. Ensuring that our transportation infrastructure is maintained and meets demand is, in my view, a core function of government. Unfortunately, as I have seen time and time again, tax revenues that are supposedly intended for transportation projects often get diverted to pet road projects or even other non-transportation uses.
I have asked the Secretary of Transportation and the Public Private Partnership Board to revisit its bridge tolling decision and actively solicit feedback from the public and stakeholder groups like the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association.
Additionally, Senator Brooks and I have introduced a resolution to rescind the current proposal. The plan should be fully and publicly vetted, so we have a clear understanding of what is coming down the pike, instead of the current murky plan that is fully understood only by government bureaucrats. And finally, we must insist that all revenue be used specifically for its intended purposes.
This article was published in the Venango Chamber’s February 2021 VenangoWorks! Newsletter.