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Bridge toll plan under examination

HARRISBURG — Charging tolls to help pay for selected interstate highway bridge projects under Pennsylvania’s Public-Private Partnership Transportation Program was the subject of a Senate Transportation Committee public hearing Monday.

The P3 Board voted in November to give the green light to planning for major bridge projects that rely on user fees or tolls for revenue. Major bridges are those of significance based on physical size, location and cost to replace or rehabilitate.

PennDOT is evaluating five to 10 bridge projects on interstates across the state as potential candidates for tolling, Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. She indicated the list could be available by mid-February.

Gramian said this effort takes place with the backdrop of declining state gasoline tax revenue due to less traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic and a steady increase in electric vehicles.

The department is weighing the economic viability of each bridge in terms of such factors as traffic load and toll revenue yield, the immediate infrastructure need and the impact on highway users, Gramian added.

Gramian said her agency is considering a vehicle toll for a bridge of $1 or $2, which she explained could generate $1.8 billion in potential toll revenue.

Senate Transportation Committee Majority Chairman Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, said lawmakers plan to exercise oversight over the tolling plans through a number of committee hearings.

The committee’s minority chairman, Sen. John Sabatina, D-Philadelphia, said the state’s transportation funding crisis is growing more serious each day.

Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango, criticized the tolling plan, calling it a “back door way to toll Interstate 80.”

The Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association is opposed to using toll revenue in P3 projects, association chairman Mark Guiffre told the committee.

“Tolling is the least efficient and most detrimental way to try to raise revenue,” Guiffre said, adding the cost of toll collection exceeds 20% to 30% of the revenue collected, and toll facilities are costly to build.

The hearing also happened after the Legislature came close but didn’t cross the finish line last session with a bill to expand the scope of P3 projects. The former House Bill 2065 would have allowed the P3 Board to tackle projects involving electronic tolling, truck parking, weigh station bypassing and snow and ice removal for commercial vehicles.

The bill died facing a House concurrence vote last November.

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