REJECTED: Application to Toll I-80

Federal government sends Turnpike proposal to tax I-80 drivers back to the drawing board

HARRISBURG, PA — Today, in response to the federal government’s rejection of plans to toll Interstate 80 (clarification: this was not a denial of the plan but the first step in that direction), the Commonwealth Foundation called on lawmakers to aggressively pursue Public-Private Partnerships to help meet our transportation infrastructure and transit needs, without taxing drivers on I-80 or bonding for billions with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC).

Yesterday, the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) returned the application of the PTC and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to toll I-80, remarking that that proposal does not meet requirements for approval under federal law.

The fourteen items identified as insufficient by the FHWA include concerns that revenue from tolls on I-80 would be used for purposes other than maintenance of I-80, which would violate the program requirements. This action effectively repudiates Act 44, which authorizes tolling of I-80 and requires toll revenue from the interstate to be used for payments to PennDOT (and for repayment of bonds used to supplement these payments) to fund Pennsylvania’s other transportation and mass transit needs.

The Commonwealth Foundation communicated with lawmakers and Gov. Rendell about the legislation’s deficiencies on three separate occasions before the law was finally signed by the governor on July 18, 2007.

On June 30, 2007, the Commonwealth Foundation urged that “policymakers should not be rushing to pass transportation funding policy which may not be legal, would excessively burden taxpayers and motorists, and fails to offer any reform of transportation services.”

On July 3, 2007, a memo was sent to members of the General Assembly and Gov. Rendell that “the proposal currently under consideration to fund Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure and transit system needs is highly flawed.”

Then on July 14, 2007, in another letter to Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly, the Commonwealth Foundation pointed out that “communication from USDOT reveals that the proposed tolling of I-80 would not qualify under current federal law.”

Despite repeated and pointed warnings about the flaws in Act 44, the Senate passed the legislation on July 16, the House on July 17, and Gov. Rendell signed it on July 18, 2007.

Gov. Rendell’s Transportation Funding and Reform Commission recommended an increase of $1.7 billion in annual funding for transportation infrastructure needs—$965 million for roads, highways, and bridges, and $760 million for mass transit. Without Federal Highway Administration approval of I-80 tolling, Act 44 will generate only $450 million annually. This would provide $200 million annually in additional funding for roads, highways, and bridges—only one-fifth the identified need of $965 million—and $250 for million mass transit agencies.

“Following this rejection by the FHWA, and with increasing public backlash to Act 44, legislators must aggressively explore Public-Private Partnerships to solve our transportation funding and operating needs,” added Brouillette. “Instead of raising taxes, erecting new tolls, or incurring more taxpayer debt, lawmakers should be partnering with a private company to run the Turnpike and contracting out mass transit services. Only then will we begin to fully address our transportation needs.”

Morgan Stanley’s preliminary analysis of transportation funding suggest that a Turnpike lease could generate $1.6 billion annually—nearly the amount identified as needed to close the long-term transportation funding gap without billions in debt or tolling I-80.

“Even before federal rejection of tolling I-80, Gov. Rendell has pushed a turnpike lease as a ‘Plan-B,'” noted Brouillette, “admitting on CNBC that Act 44 delivered only half the revenue that a Turnpike lease could have. It is crucial that legislators get involved in discussing a potential lease, rather than rushing legislation through without serious consideration—as was done with Act 44. By working with the Governor and stakeholders now, lawmakers can devise parameters for a potential lease which will protect taxpayers and motorists while bringing in enough capital to meet our transportation needs.”

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The Commonwealth Foundation ( is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA.

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