When it comes to toll roads, Pennsylvania seems to lead the way: a turnpike system that a recent report dubbed the most expensive toll road in the world, and now plans by PennDOT to begin adding tolls for travel on nine interstate highway bridges.

The plans for bridge tolls sparked outrage from both the public and elected officials, so much so that the state Senate Transportation Committee last week voted 9-4 along party lines (Republicans supporting, Democrats opposed) to require legislative approval for road projects that include a user fee. Whether such a measure would withstand a veto from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is unclear.

In the meantime, the Legislature, the governor and transportation officials must come up with a better way to produce the needed revenues for road maintenance rather than continually passing on the cost to the traveling public and the trucking industry.

The new bridge-tolling plan, as crafted, would include the Interstate 79 bridge near the Bridgeville exit and it would go into effect in 2023. Although the toll amount has not been set, it could be $1 to $2 for passenger vehicles and more for tractor-trailers.

That may seem like a nominal fee to produce the funds needed to maintain the bridge, but for a local commuter who travels the road twice a day, that’s $40 a month at a $1 fee; twice that at $2. For truckers and the industry, the impact is sure to be great.

The continual increase in both the number of toll roads as well as the rates on the turnpike (13 consecutive years of rate hikes) is unreasonable. It’s practically a given that any new construction projects will include a tolling requirement, as is the case, for example, with the Southern Beltway that will link I-79 and Route 22 near Pittsburgh International Airport.

Passing along transportation system maintenance costs with more and higher tolls doesn’t just sap the pocketbooks of the traveling public; it slams the trucking industry — our nation’s commercial lifeline. And as drivers look to avoid the tolls, there’s increased traffic load on a road system not designed for it.

The American Trucking Association released a report last year that said toll revenue had increased nationwide over the past 10 years by 72 percent, although inflation increased by less than 17 percent. And the study found that of the $14.7 billion collected in tolls, nearly half went for uses other than maintenance. It is worth mentioning that higher tolls for the trucking industry generally results in higher consumer costs.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wolf wants to eliminate the gasoline tax. He has established a commission to find alternatives to the tax, which is a key source of funding for road projects. The alternative cannot be more and higher tolls. There’s a better way. PennDOT and the governor’s new commission need to find it.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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