Pennsylvania Senate panel advances public-private partnership bill
March 25, 2021
The pursuit of public-private partnerships and bridge tolls in Pennsylvania has some leading legislators at the statehouse calling for an audible on the issue.
In 2012, the Pennsylvania General Assembly approved legislation to authorize the state 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.
Fast forward to 2021, and Senate Transportation Chairman Wayne Langerholc is behind a bill moving through the chamber that would reform the public-private partnership statute.
Bridge toll plans
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. The following nine bridges were identified 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).
Not so fast
The Senate Transportation Committee voted 9-4 to advance a bill to halt the current bridge toll plans.
Langerholc, R-Cambria, 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.
He said his bill, SB382, would increase transparency, public input and a proper checks and balances on public-private partnerships. The legislature would also be required to endorse any toll plan.
“My legislation will reform the P3 statute to provide a clear, fixed notice requirement, a public comment period specific to the scope of projects to be undertaken as well as strengthening the General Assembly’s oversight,” Langerholc stated in a memo to legislators.
Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela, acknowledged that the state needs to address funding discrepancies of roads and bridges. She added that it can be accomplished “without crushing the transportation industry.”
“The tolling proposal cuts right to the heart of Pennsylvania’s ongoing efforts to promote economic development and job creation,” Bartolotta told the 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.
“Our answers to fix revenue problems cannot be merely met with new taxes, fees and tolls on the backs of Pennsylvania’s hardworking families and businesses,” Langerholc said in prepared remarks following the bill’s passage in his committee.
He added that broader discussion is needed to address transportation funding challenges in the state.
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.
The bill now moves to the Senate floor. The House version, HB920, received a hearing on Wednesday, March 24, in the House Transportation Committee. LL