Industry experts are warning Pennsylvania lawmakers that a recent proposal for new bridge tolls could “destroy” trucking companies across the state.
Head of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association Joe Butzer spoke with lawmakers on Monday, January 25th, during the Senate transportation committee hearing about the potential repercussions of the increase, calling it “the wrong approach.”
“[The bridge tolling strategy] is the wrong approach to increasing the highway funding needed to keep Pennsylvania’s infrastructure sound,” he said according to The Tribune-Democrat. “This strategy will destroy the trucking industry.”
According to PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, Pennsylvania will determine which bridges could be targeted for tolls sometime in February, indicating that as many as 10 bridges could fall under the new toll proposal. PennDOT intends to examine traffic volume, as well as bridge size and condition, as factors to take into account when considering the new tolls. The state plans to instate tolls on bridges all across the state so as not to unfairly charge a specific portion of the state.
Pennsylvania intends to offer discounted rates for commuters or low-income drivers, but Butzer says that this will do nothing to help cover the costs of tolls for trucking companies, pointing out that Pennsylvania trucking companies may very well lose-out on contracts because clients will opt for companies in states that can avoid the tolls, and therefore offer a cheaper rate.
Butzer says that trucking companies often operate on “razor thin” margins and earn less than 1% in profits. As an example, Butzer brought up a now-defunct Pennsylvania trucking company, where he served as an executive. Butzer claims that the company went under in 2018 after struggling to keep up with the increased tolls and gas taxes and fees after Act 89 passed in 2013. Pennsylvania currently has the second-highest gas-tax in the United States.
“In 2008, my company at the time spent $103,716 on tolls for 20 trucks and in 2015, the costs rose to $136,265, equating to over a 30% increase in just seven years and in spite of that at our company policy was to avoid costs whenever possible,” he said. “Our toll miles declined but the toll cost to our business significantly increased,” he said.
According to Gramain, the new bridge tolls are under consideration due to lack of expected government funding for roadway repairs and maintenance, as well as concerns over a decrease in gas consumption as an increased number of vehicles shift to electric power. The state plans to use the proposed bridge toll income to repair and replace interstate bridges, freeing up other funds to repair smaller state roads and bridges.
There will be a period for public comment after specific bridges are selected for the tolls.