Pennsylvania Senate approves re-do on public-private partnerships
May 4, 2021
Pursuit in the Pennsylvania statehouse for a do-over on tolls via public-private partnerships continues to move forward.
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.
Since then, Pennsylvania Senate Republicans have taken up the pursuit of legislation to reform the public-private partnerships statute. Specifically, SB382 would halt the current bridge toll plans.
The Senate has voted 28-19 to advance the reform legislation.
P3 bridge toll plans
The 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 Project (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).
A final decision on which bridges to toll could come as early as this summer.
Senate Transportation Chairman Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, 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 Senate voted today to hit the brakes on this reckless plan,” Langerholc said in prepared remarks. “The answer for transportation funding cannot just be to raise taxes or fees on the backs of hardworking Commonwealth residents.”
Speaking on the Senate floor, Langerholc described his bill as increasing transparency, public input and a proper checks and balances on P3s.
The legislature and the governor would also be required to endorse any toll plan.
Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela, has raised concerns 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 recently 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 further consideration in the House Transportation Committee. LL
Land Line Staff Writer Tyson Fisher contributed to this report.