(The Center Square) – Opposition to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s plan to toll nine state bridges grew this week as Gov. Tom Wolf announced a new task force to develop alternative funding options.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Wayne Langerholic Jr., R-Johnstown, introduced a measure that would void PennDOT’s Pathways Major Bridge P3 Initiative after the public-private partnership decided on a 30-year plan to raise $2.2 billion in revenue from user fees to fund repairs and maintenance for the involved bridges.
Lawmakers authorized the P3 program through Act 88 in 2012 as way to maximize investment in transportation projects. PennDOT Secretary Yasmin Gramian said the agency is about $9.3 billion short of the funds necessary to maintain the state’s 40,000 roads and 25,400 bridges. That gap will widen to more than $14.5 billion over the next decade.
So far, other initiatives, like the gas tax, have failed to produce enough revenue to conquer the problem. The General Assembly, instead, has raided the fund to cover rising costs for the Pennsylvania State Police. That’s why Gov. Tom Wolf said he assembled a Transportation Revenue Options Committee last week to figure out a new path forward before August.
“Phasing out the burdensome gas tax, coupled with seeking long-term reliable funding solutions that will keep pace with our infrastructure needs, deserves a close examination,” he said. “Forming this bipartisan commission will bring multiple, bipartisan voices to the table to ensure that we can examine reliable, sustainable revenue solutions to address both near-term and long-term funding needs.”
Langerholc will serve on the committee, but that didn’t stop him and others from criticizing the PennDOT plan as an overreach of Act 88’s original purpose.
“Our answers to fix revenue problems cannot be merely met with tacit approval for another tax, fee or toll on the backs of Pennsylvania’s hardworking families and residents,” he said. “Let us use this moment to have a much broader conversation on transportation funding within this great Commonwealth.”
Reps. Sheryl Delozier, R-Lower Allen Twp.; Jason Ortitay, R-Bridgeville; and Andrew Lewis, R-Harrisburg, introduced similar legislation in the House that requires lawmaker approval before moving forward. All three lawmakers represent districts where they say tolling would create an unfair burden on residents commuting to and from work.
“The bridge tolling proposal put forward was ill-advised to say the least, and it came with more questions than answers,” Lewis said. “My constituents already pay an exorbitant gas tax and expensive tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and now, PennDOT seems to think they can afford yet another fee simply to get to work. Legislators – who are taxpayers' voice in government – need to put an end to this toll scheme and have a say in future PennDOT proposals.”
“Taxpayers … who work in the city of Harrisburg already pay three times more in Local Services Tax than anyone in the state,” Delozier said of her constituents. “The proposed tolling plan would require them to pay while traveling to and from their place of employment.”
Ortitay described the timing of the plan’s announcement as “suspicious.”
“While I was not a member of the General Assembly at the time the P3 law passed, I don’t think anyone could have guessed a governor would manipulate the law to create targeted user fees that would collect money well in excess of the amount needed for a project,” he said. “It is time to have robust discussion on how we fund transportation in this commonwealth.”