Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Notes on I-80 Tolling

A variety of viewpoints from the inbox:

The rejection by the U.S. Department of Transportation of Pennsylvania’s planned funding of highway and public transit will create a deep and long lasting effect on many major SEPTA projects.

In the immediate future, the rejection will jeopardize more than 20 projects worth an excess of $450 million dollars. At the top of the list is the much-anticipated $100 million investment in a new state-of-the-art fare collection system, and another $100 million dollars for the badly needed reconstruction of the City Hall Station of the Broad Street Subway. Many of the other projects may be less visible but are critically important, such as the replacement of electrical substations on the Regional Rail system which are operating well beyond their designed lifetime.

“The loss of this funding would hobble the growth and rebuilding of the SEPTA system that our customers deserve and expect,” said SEPTA General Manager, Joe Casey. “We appreciate the efforts of Governor Rendell and state legislative leaders who have worked tirelessly to create predictable funding for public transportation and highways, as well.”

For the immediate future, SEPTA is projecting a $300 million Capital Budget for Fiscal Year 2011 – reflecting cuts of $110 million due to the rejection of the Commonwealth’s funding plan in Washington. This would leave the Authority with just enough money to pay for mandated expenses such as debt service, vehicle and infrastructure repairs and new equipment.

This action by Washington does not impact SEPTA’s previously announced plans for the Fiscal 2011 Operating Budget, which already proposes an average system-wide 6 percent fare increase and no service cuts.

Joe Sestak
"The I-80 issue requires more creativity than has been shown to date and a transparent, accountable working partnership between Harrisburg and Washington. This is not an issue that has developed overnight, but rather over decades of neglect. We have always known that relief from the Federal Highway Administration was far from guaranteed and we have the ability to obtain more resources by other means. Tolls would disproportionately impact the pocketbooks of a certain segment of the state's population, including small businesses and the residents who live along I-80. Instead, a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drilling, which should have begun this year, would alleviate the burden of infrastructure costs for Interstate 80 and provide for road and transit investments throughout the state."

Paul Kanjorski
Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11) expressed satisfaction that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rejected the application to toll I-80 which was submitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC). Congressman Kanjorski had urged DOT to reject the application. Most recently, in his letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sent on January 13, the Congressman specifically noted that the I-80 tolling application did not meet the legal requirements for such activity to take place. According to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who spoke about the issue at a press conference this afternoon, it became clear that DOT rejected the application for this reason.

“I am pleased with DOT for rejecting the application to toll I-80,” said Congressman Kanjorski. “I have advocated for years that we should not implement policies that dramatically discriminate against Northeastern Pennsylvanians by asking them to pay a disproportionate share of the cost for a statewide problem. Tolling I-80 would have done that, and I am pleased to see that DOT seriously considered my objections, and also correctly interpreted the law which resulted in the application’s rejection. Now, we must work together to help the Governor and State Legislature determine how to fairly address the state’s highway budget shortfall. I stand ready to help in any way that I can.”

In a letter sent January 13 to Secretary LaHood, Congressman Kanjorski specifically addressed his belief that the application from PennDOT and PTC did not meet the necessary legal requirements, which was why the application was eventually rejected:

“I continue to oppose the plans approved by the Governor and Legislature to tax commuters in Northern Pennsylvania by converting Interstate 80 to a toll road. From my perspective, the current application submitted by PennDOT and the PTC does not meet the legal requirements of the ISRRPP and urge you to reject the application outright.”

Since 2007, Congressman Kanjorski has met personally and corresponded numerous times with DOT and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) officials stating his opposition to tolling I-80 and urging them to reject the PTC and PennDOT’s applications. During that time, the PTC and PennDOT have submitted three applications.

In December, Congressman Kanjorski organized a meeting for Members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, as well as Members of the State Legislature to meet with FHWA Deputy Administrator Greg Nadeau to express their concerns about potential tolling I-80. On November 19, Congressman Kanjorski and other Members met with Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez. Additionally, in October, Congressman Kanjorski personally spoke with Secretary LaHood and expressed his continued opposition to tolling I-80 and urged the Secretary to reject the state’s application.

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