State House votes to halt PennDOT plan to toll bridges for repairs
A plan to add tolls on nine bridges suffered a setback Tuesday when the Pennsylvania state House passed a bill to void the proposal, although the legislation requires one more Senate vote and faces opposition from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
The tolling plan would pay for the bridges’ repair or reconstruction, freeing up money from the new federal infrastructure bill for other projects across the state. But opponents say tolls would hurt the local economy near the bridges, and there wasn’t enough public input.
“We are all elected to represent our areas and have a voice for them, but the way this transpired, we did not have a voice,” said Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, whose district would be affected by proposed tolls on the Interstate 83 South Bridge to Harrisburg.
State representatives voted 125 to 74 for requiring legislative approval of specific proposals to add tolls. The bill would require PennDOT to publicly advertise toll proposals, take public comment and seek approval from both the governor and the Legislature.
PennDOT has not made final decisions on which bridges to toll.
Rep. Mike Carroll of Luzerne County, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, noted Republicans turned aside a Democratic proposal to require approval of specific projects by the Legislature when the Public Private Transportation Partnership was authorized by the majority Republican General Assembly in 2012.
“It was your caucus’ idea,” Carroll told House Republicans. “You voted for it — your caucus. You advanced it to Gov. (Tom) Corbett and he signed it.”
The infrastructure bill just approved in Washington is a “sudden influx of money” that can be used to fund bridge repairs, said Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-Chester, the Transportation Committee chairman.
“Frankly the citizens of Pennsylvania will have a hard time understanding the need for tolling in light of that,” Hennessey said.
But Carroll warned that “Every single county in the state will have projects that do not get done if we have to dedicate $2 billion of the $4 billion to fix nine bridges."
Tolls would be between $1 and $2, probably both ways, to help pay for about $2.2 billion in construction work. The tolls would be put in place from the start of construction in 2023 and could last for 30 years, PennDOT officials have said.
The nine that could be tolled are I-78′s Lenhartsville Bridge in Berks County; I-79′s bridges over State Route 50 in Allegheny County; I-80′s bridges across Canoe Creek in Clarion County, Nescopeck Creek in Luzerne County, North Fork in Jefferson County and the Lehigh River, near Wilkes-Barre; I-81 over the Susquehanna River in northern Pennsylvania; I-83′s South Bridge across the Susquehanna River; and Girard Point Bridge in Philadelphia.
The Public Private Transportation Partnership board gave PennDOT the go-ahead a year ago to pursue tolls, the first time it's approved a plan involving user fees since it was created in 2012.