Tolls Proposed in Pennsylvania

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To address an “acute transportation funding challenge,” Pennsylvania’s Transportation Revenue Options Commission recommends, among other steps, implementing tolls on bridges.

The proposal for bridge tolls is included in a report that the Commission submitted to Gov. Tom Wolf. Here, lightly edited for clarity and length, is an excerpt:

The Major Bridge P3 Initiative is the first alternative funding initiative of the PennDOT Pathways Program, designed to secure sustainable funding for the state’s transportation system. The Major Bridge P3 Initiative is designed to raise revenue through tolling to address the state’s growing backlog of major bridge replacement and rehabilitation needs. These bridges would use a Public-Private Partnership (P3) contracting and delivery method. Through the P3 model, PennDOT can leverage private investment to rebuild critical bridges during a period with historically low interest rates and a favorable labor market. This initiative can provide a dedicated source of revenue for these infrastructure improvements and could create significant savings over the life of the program while ensuring the vitality of the state’s transportation system and economy.

Bridge tolling can provide the funds to repair or replace these costly bridges without using PennDOT’s current funding, which in turn allows those funds to be used for other roadway maintenance, operations and improvements. Tolling would be all electronic and collected by using E-ZPass or license plate billing. The funds received from the toll would go back to the bridge where the toll is collected to pay for the construction, maintenance and operation of that bridge.

The expected benefits:

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creates a dedicated funding source for that bridge, including costs of construction, regular maintenance and operations

avoids the reallocation of traditional funding away from other local/regional projects

only those that use the bridge pay for it, including out-of-state travelers that may not have purchased gas in the state and don’t pay license and registration fees

the interstate system in Pennsylvania carries 25 percent of in-state traffic and serves as the economic backbone for many communities as well as the Northeastern portion of the US. Investing in infrastructure will enable Pennsylvania to remain economically viable into the future

for every $1 billion of investment in highways and bridges, the state generates 10,493 jobs and additional economic output of $2.2 billion

The expected challenges are: drivers may avoid tolls; potential impacts to local communities; perception of unfairness by users living/working near toll bridges.

So far, nearly 5,000 Pennsylvania drivers commented on  which funding options would work best for communities. Here are some of the things heard to date about bridge tolling:

It’s important to invest funds from the tolls directly into the facility that generated the toll

Bridge tolling location and pricing should not unfairly impact lower income communities

Drivers generally prefer bridge tolling to fee/tax increases

The candidate bridges being considered for tolling through the Major Bridge P3 Initiative were selected based on the following criteria:

Located on the interstate or expressway;

Structures of significance based on size, location and cost to replace or rehabilitate;

Structural conditions that warrant timely attention to enhance safety and avoid disruption and community impacts if closure or weight restrictions were imposed;

Geographic balance across the state;

Can begin construction in two to four years for near-term benefit; and

The ability for the project to be financially viable with a reasonable toll rate.

Over the next year, PennDOT will evaluate these candidate bridges through individual environmental documents being prepared or re-evaluated for each bridge. Each project will advance with an evaluation on the impacts of tolling in the community to include:

Impacts to minority and low-income populations

Traffic diversion impacts from drivers avoiding the toll

The Transportation Revenue Options Commission was established in March 2021 through an Executive Order signed by Governor Tom Wolf. It developed comprehensive funding recommendations for Pennsylvania’s vast transportation network.

The commission was composed of transportation, economic, and community stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, including majority and minority leaders from the House and Senate Transportation and Appropriations committees. PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian served as commission chair.

The commission held its first meeting on March 25, 2021. A report of commission activities and funding options was submitted to the Governor on July 30, 2021, just before the deadline of Aug. 1, 2021.

To read the report click here.

Source: Transportation Revenue Options Commission

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