Transportation Industry Misleads on I-80 Tolling

A couple of recent editorials in favor of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s plan to toll I-80 – both by transportation industry insiders – gives some misleading info. Peter Javsicas of Pennsylvanians for Transportation Solutions has a Patriot News piece claiming I-80 tolls won’t be used for transit.

But the state Mass Transit Trust Fund will receive $410 million in FY 2010-11 (and increasing amounts in future years) from the Turnpike Commission under Act 44 if I-80 is tolled, and only $250 million without I-80 tolls. That’s $160 million-plus that mass transit gets, only if I-80 is tolled. Sure, they might create separate checking accounts, but the bottom line is that the push to toll I-80 is driven, in large part, by the desire to subsidize underperforming and inefficient mass transit agencies.

Jim Scheiner, a former PennDOT official, also has a letter in the Patriot News, citing the benefits of the tolling plan for I-80 drivers. Among his claims are that the proposal would spend “$2.5 billion over 10 years to upgrade I-80.” Of course, this leaves out the facts that:

  • Pennsylvania would have spent $1.4 billion in that time on I-80 without Act 44
  • I-80 drivers will pay $5.3 billion in tolls over that time
  • $2.6 billion from I-80 tolls go towards payments to PennDOT over that time
  • A 2005 PennDOT study recommended against tolling I-80 because
    • The “deteriorated condition” of the road had been improved
    • The “benefits to users of an I-80 toll road would be insignificant for a considerable period of time”

We have identified several alternatives to tolling I-80, including repealing prevailing wage laws and using public-private partnerships to reduce taxpayer cost and improve the quality of services. However, as John Micek of the Morning Call writes, the state has no “Plan B” if and when the federal government rejects I-80 tolling.