Trucking industry experts say they are “disappointed” by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s plan to move forward with the tolling of 9 major bridges across the state.
The proposed toll rates range from $1-2 dollars per crossing, but a specific commercial truck rate has yet to be determined.
“The trucking industry was just really disappointed to hear this proposal,” said Rebecca K. Oyler of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association (PMTA), and representative of more than 1,000 trucking companies.
“One truck crossing twice a day across the river is going to add $5200 a year to the operating costs for that one truck.”
Should you have to pay a toll to cross 9 bridges in Pennsylvania to help fund needed upgrades? See why one group of drivers tell me the proposal isn’t fair. And why PennDOT says it’s necessary. @fox43 #toll #Pennsylvania https://t.co/UF0HntAHsv— Jamie Bittner (@JamieReports) February 24, 2021
The state says funds collected from the new tolls will go towards much-needed renovations for bridges throughout Pennsylvania, but Oyler, PMTA, and 1,000s of trucking companies feel that the trucking industry is being unfairly targeted when it comes to funding infrastructural repairs.
“We also feel the trucking industry has paid a disproportionate share of the transportation funding costs already and we feel like this is sort of targeting the industry,” Oyler said.
PennDOT spokesperson, Dave Thompson, had this to say about the upcoming tolls:
“An important point is that the South Bridge needs to be replaced. It’s old, doesn’t meet current design standards or have enough capacity at peak hours. There would be significant impacts to the trucking industry and motorists in general if the bridge needs to be weight restricted or even closed. Tolling the bridge would be a reliable way of funding a project and paying for continued maintenance through what essentially is a user fee. It’s important that tolls be fair and affordable.”
The tolling plan stems from Pennsylvania’s lack of revenue thanks to increasingly fuel efficient vehicles, and even less travel due to the pandemic. In the past, as much as 74% of the state’s revenue came from federal and state gas taxes, but with more fuel-efficient vehicles out on the road, and those vehicles traveling less than usual, the funds gathered from these taxes have fallen considerably, prompting state officials to explore new funding strategies – hence the bridge tolling.
“The good news is that people are using less gas. Fuel efficiency is great for the environment and for our pockets,” said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian. “The bad news is people are using less gas, which means we are collecting less gas tax revenue.”
According to Fox 43, PennDOT claims the proposed tolls are required for the following reasons:
- Accelerate the renewal of major bridges to ensure public safety
- Avoid time and financial impacts of travel diversion resulting from bridge restrictions and closures due to bridge condition;
- Help offset gas tax revenue losses, as identified by the state Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC)Opens In A New WindowOpens In A New Window and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic;
- Ensure users (including out-of-state traffic) contribute fairly to the replacement or rehabilitation of the bridges based on usage; and
- Create a sustainable funding model for the state’s major bridges.
Renovations on the Interstate 83 South bridge are expected to begin in 2024, with tolling expected to begin far before that. PennDOT says the bridge is nearing the end of its serviceable capabilities, much like many of the bridges in the state, and estimates the cost of renovation for the I 83 bridge alone to cost somewhere between $500 and $650 million.
While truck drivers and trucking organizations are absolutely proponents of safe, well kept roadways, PMTA fears that the proposed tolls will only increase the likelihood of bottlenecks on roadways without tolls. Just this week, the American Transportation Research Institute released a list of the 100 worst locations for truck bottlenecks – Pennsylvania is home to seven of these areas.
“We know that a lot of commuters and a lot of other traffic are going to try to avoid the toll,” Oyler said.
The PMTA is currently encouraging members to speak against the proposal through letters to PennDOT detailing how the tolls will negatively impact their business. PennDOT is holding a ‘virtual presentation’ with live public comment until March 29th, and a telephone town hall on March 16th.