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Carl DeFebo

September 26, 2007


Pa. Turnpike Chief Clarifies I-80 Tolling Misconceptions

CEO Joe Brimmeier calls Act 44 the best, fairest option to fund transportation in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, PA (09/26/2007; 1511)(readMedia)-- Pennsylvania Turnpike Chief Executive Joe Brimmeier today clarified some common misunderstandings about how — and where — any future toll revenue collected on Pennsylvania’s Interstate 80 would be spent.

“Not one dime of tolls from I-80 would go to mass transit anywhere in the commonwealth,” Brimmeier said. “In fact, the money collected on I-80 would first pay for maintenance and reconstruction on I-80, with remaining toll revenues supporting improvements to roads and bridges throughout Pennsylvania — including many along this largely rural corridor of the state.”

Act 44 provides several funding streams, including increased tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Turnpike revenue bonds and I-80 toll revenues. The state’s 73 mass-transit agencies will be funded by mainline Turnpike revenue bonds, not I-80 tolls. An I-80 lease agreement between the Turnpike and PennDOT will strictly prohibit toll income collected on the interstate from being spent on anything except highways and bridges. That agreement is now being finalized and is likely to be executed later this fall.

The Turnpike chief said myths about I-80 tolls going to big-city transit systems are being spread by opponents of Act 44, the law Gov. Rendell signed to help close a well-documented, $1.7 billion a year transportation-funding gap. The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 44 on July 18 to fund the state’s aging transportation systems.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, working closely with PennDOT, is now moving forward to comply with the law’s mandates. The two agencies are jointly seeking federal authorization to collect tolls on I-80 starting in 2011. The Turnpike last month made an initial $62.5 million payment to PennDOT, and it will make more Act-44 payments totaling $750 million over the next year — with average payments equaling almost $1.7 billion annually over the next 50 years.

“With Act 44, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will supply an astonishing $116 Billion to PennDOT for transportation-system upgrades across the state over the next 50 years,” Brimmeier said.

Opponents, too, erroneously predict astronomical I-80 tolls. In reality, tolls on the 311-mile interstate would, by law, mirror existing Turnpike per-mile rates. That means tolls of around $25 to drive across the state in a car while an average tractor-trailer truck would pay less than $100 for the trip — assuming tolls would start in 2011. Under a planned E-ZPass volume-discount program, the Turnpike will offer price cuts — anywhere from 10-20 percent based on their monthly toll bill — to buses and trucks that take I-80. And, since tolls on I-80 will be collected at no more than 10 toll plazas, some free local movement will be possible between fare-collection points. Plus, the commission is considering more ways to reduce costs for frequent I-80 users like commuters and others.

In addition, I-80 will see a number of major upgrades under Act 44. In fact, approximately $2 billion in I-80 safety and operational improvements will be undertaken on the interstate in the first 10 years alone, such as lengthening on and off-ramps at interchanges, building truck-climbing lanes and raising some low-clearance bridges that now force trucks off the highway. In addition, engineers are currently studying what other roadway and pavement repairs could be completed to further enhance I-80.

“Everybody agrees we must fix our crumbling transportation infrastructure. That money has to come from somewhere,” Brimmeier said. “Act 44 detractors are quick to assault the state legislature’s transportation-funding solution, but I’ve yet to hear them offer practical suggestions on how to raise the necessary money.”

Traditional funding methods cannot keep pace with escalating costs to maintain the commonwealth’s deteriorating transportation network.

“Today, fuel taxes are no longer adequate to support our network of roads and bridges, many of which are close to or beyond their 50-year life expectancy,” Brimmeier said. “Tolling is an equitable means to subsidize our interstate system because it’s a user fee, and transportation agencies worldwide recognize that tolls represent the wave of the future in highway-funding alternatives.”

But the political reality is that transportation-funding options are limited.

“There’s no desire to increase our state’s gas tax — or to raise any other tax or fee — to the levels required to generate the $1.7 billion a year we need,” Brimmeier said. “Act 44 is the best solution, and it’s the only mechanism that would generate that kind of funding without selling off a state asset.”

Act 44 will unquestionably have an effect on communities across the I-80 corridor. “Naturally, many people have legitimate questions and concerns about that,” Brimmeier said. “That’s why we’ve pledged to convene a series of open meetings — not only with those who drive on and live near I-80 but with their elected officials as well.”

The Turnpike launched an Act-44 web page at The site provides information about the act and an option to make your voice heard electronically on this important issue.