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Jun
2021
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Fee for miles driven? Hot lanes? Pennsylvania seeks transportation funding solutions

By Teresa Boeckel | York Daily Record

On a recent weekend, drivers stopped at a Pennsylvania Welcome Center, just north of the Maryland line, to take a break on their trips.

Cars and trucks whizzed by on Interstate 83. Peter and Jackie Speaks, who were on their way home to Harrisburg, said they recognize the challenge the state is facing with its deteriorating roads and bridges.

They’ve heard about plans for tolls to pay for work needed, but they don’t know if that’s the answer.

Jackie Speaks motioned to nearby tractor-trailers parked at the rest stop and mentioned how much harder new tolls would be for the industry.

President Joe Biden has proposed $621 billion for transportation in his federal infrastructure bill. It includes about $115 billion for road and bridge repairs nationally.

“Hopefully the (federal) infrastructure bill will be passed,” Peter Speaks said.

But even that’s not enough for the state’s needs.

Pennsylvania faces an $8.1 billion annual shortfall for interstates and bridges, and overall, the state has $9.3 billion in unmet needs across its state-maintained system, which includes highways, bridges, aviation, railroads, transit and ports. Without a significant increase in federal investment, PennDOT says, it has been forced to take money away from regional projects to help the interstate network.

The agency doesn’t know yet the details on how the infrastructure money would be distributed to Pennsylvania, but “any additional federal funds could help our limited state dollars go farther,” PennDOT said in a statement. It would help projects that already are in the works in the coming years.

Peter Speaks said it’s going to take funding from both the federal and state governments to meet the needs. He and Jackie Speaks think that increasing fees, such as for license and registration renewals, might be part of the answer.

Here’s a look at the different ways the state is looking at raising revenue to fund transportation:

Bridge tolling

Tolling bridges is one of the short-term solutions, which has already been shared with the public.

PennDOT has identified nine bridges around the state — eight that need to be replaced and one that requires rehabilitation — that could be candidates for tolling to help pay for the work.

The department would enter into a private-public partnership with a developer, which would arrange for private financing to design, construct, operate and maintain the structures, said Ken McClain, PennDOT’s alternative funding director.

PennDOT would collect tolls on each of the bridges to pay back the investment over a 30- to 35-year period.

It’s similar to a mortgage on a house, McClain said. The buyer borrows money and pays it back over time.

For commuters with E-ZPass, it would likely cost $1 or $2 in each direction to cross the bridges. A truck driver would likely pay between $4 and $6.

The plan, however, has drawn criticism from commuters, the trucking industry and legislators, saying it would hurt drivers and businesses.

The state Senate recently approved a bill that would stop PennDOT’s