Pennsylvania House endorses bill to thwart toll bridge plan
November 29, 2021
The Pennsylvania House has approved a bill to address what has been described as an “aggressive overreach” on tolling bridges.
Nearly a decade has passed since the General Assembly approved legislation to authorize the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to create a public-private partnership board. The state’s authorization to use public-private partnerships covers roads, bridges, rail, transit, and parking facilities.
In November 2020, PennDOT announced that it received permission to launch the Major Bridge P3 Initiative, which allows the state to install tolls on major bridges that are in need of repairs. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration backs the initiative.
House lawmakers voted 125-74 to advance a bill to reform the public-private partnerships statute. Specifically, SB382 would halt the current bridge toll plans. Senate lawmakers voted in the spring to approve the reform legislation.
Bridge toll plans
The one-year-old Major Bridge P3 Initiative identified the following nine bridges as candidates for tolls:
I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project (Berks County).
- I-79 Widening, Bridges and Bridgeville Interchange Reconfiguration (Allegheny County).
- I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges (Clarion County).
- I-80 Nescopeck Creek Bridges (Luzerne County).
- I-80 North Fork Bridges Project (Jefferson County).
- I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project (Luzerne and Carbon counties).
- I-81 Susquehanna Project (Susquehanna County).
- I-83 South Bridge Project (Dauphin County).
- I-95 Girard Point Bridge Improvement Project (Philadelphia County).
No final decisions on tolls have been made.
About-face on tolls
Senate Transportation Chairman Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, has described the Major Bridge P3 Initiative as giving the state DOT the authority to “essentially tax and appropriate funds without additional oversight” from state lawmakers.
Langerholc introduced SB382 to head off the tolling plan. He has described his bill as increasing transparency, public input and proper checks and balances on public-private partnerships.
The legislature and the governor would also be required to endorse any toll plan.
The bill would also void the Major Bridge P3 Initiative. The P3 board that created the initiative would remain intact.
Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, recently told House Transportation Committee members the 2012 law was approved by the legislature in good faith that lawmakers would have an administration to work with on decisions about public-private partnerships.
Instead, Heffley said the Wolf administration misused its authority. He cited the “backdoor antics” from a year ago to launch the Major Bridge P3 Initiative at a time when there was not sufficient time for the legislature to take action.
“It really shows why Senate Bill 382 is now needed … because you have an administration that just ran roughshod over the policies and procedures that were built into the P3 bill,” Heffley said.
The Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association and others in the industry have testified in opposition to adding tolls to bridges in the state. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association also opposes tolls as a means to enhance transportation revenue.
Langerholc said his bill would “stop PennDOT’s hostile P3 bridge tolling takeover.”
“This aggressive overreach must be tempered with compromise, particularly since Pennsylvania can leverage $4 billion in new funding from Congress’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” Langerholc said in a news release following the bill’s House passage.
Advocates say the tolling plan would allow the state to use more money from the new federal infrastructure bill for other projects around the state.
SB382 heads back to the Senate for final approval before heading to the governor’s desk. LL
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