Pennsylvania legislator offers alternative to bridge tolls
August 12, 2021
One leading Pennsylvania state lawmaker has offered a transportation funding plan as an alternative to bridge tolls.
Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He has announced a plan to help address the state Department of Transportation’s $8.1 billion budget deficit for infrastructure repairs.
Specifically, his pursuit would tap a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act to provide immediate relief for the design and construction of roads and bridges. Additionally, it would prioritize “innovative federal financing” over the state DOT’s bridge tolling initiative.
Major Bridges P3 Initiative
The state Department of Transportation announced late last year that it received permission to launch the Major Bridges P3 Initiative. The initiative allows the state to install tolls on major bridges that are in need of repairs.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolfe’s administration backs the initiative.
The Major Bridges 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).
DRIVE SMART Act
Langerholc’s alternative to tolls is dubbed the DRIVE SMART Act, which is an acronym for “Delivering Reforms and Investments for Vehicle Efficiency and Supporting Motor Carriers, Airports, Rails & Trails and Transit Agencies.”
He says his plan would serve as a stop-gap until a better solution for transportation funding can be approved.
“In my role as Senate Transportation chairman, I will continue holding conversations with the public and stakeholders on how we can adequately address our transportation needs,” Langerholc said in prepared remarks.
Some of the key proposals included in the plan:
- Reform the public-private transportation partnership statute and void the PennDOT Pathways
- Major Bridge P3 Initiative.
- Authorize PennDOT to bond for the Interstate Transportation Improvement Program under the federal Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles program.
- Reduce the transfer from the Motor License Fund to the Pennsylvania State Police while ensuring a reliable, sustainable funding source for troopers.
- Increase finds for traffic safety laws that receive the most violations, such as unregistered vehicles.
- Enhance penalties for offenses in active work zones.
- Create a five-year pilot program for electric vehicles to pay a mileage based user fee or opt-out and pay an annual fee of 400.
The Senate voted this spring to endorse a related pursuit by Langerholc to reform the state’s P3 statute. Specifically, SB382 would halt the current bridge toll plans.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Langerholc described his bill as increasing transparency, public input and a proper checks and balances on P3s.
Langerholc describes the Major Bridge P3 Initiative as permitting the state DOT the authority to “essentially tax and appropriate funds without additional oversight” from state lawmakers.
The legislature and the governor also would be required to endorse any toll plan.
Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela, has raised concerns about tolls specific to the trucking industry.
“The tolling proposal cuts right to the heart of Pennsylvania’s ongoing efforts to promote economic development and job creation,” Bartolotta previously told a Senate committee. “Let us not forget the residual effects from bridge tolling on trucking companies, which deliver products to these businesses … will ultimately be forced to pass these costs onto customers.”
The bill would also void the Major Bridge P3 Initiative. The P3 board that created the initiative would remain intact.
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.
SB382 awaits consideration in the House Transportation Committee. LL
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