New Pennsylvania law thwarts proposed toll bridge

A review of the Pennsylvania law addresses what has been described as “aggressive overreach” on imposing new tolls on existing bridges.

Nearly a decade has passed since the General Assembly approved legislation authorizing the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to create a public-private partnership board. State permission to use public-private partnerships covers roads, bridges, rail, transit, and parking facilities.

In November 2020, PennDOT announced that it had received approval to initiate the Major Bridge P3 initiative, which allows the state to install tolls on major bridges in need of repair. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration backed the initiative.

Critics said the Major Bridge P3 initiative would give the state DOT the power to “essentially tax and appropriate funds without additional oversight” from state lawmakers.

In response, legislation was introduced at the Statehouse to reform the status of PPPs. Specifically, SB382 called for a halt to the bridge tolling plans.

The bill, SB382, passed the Senate late last year but stalled in the House due to the governor’s concern over provisions in the legislation aimed at stopping the initiative. .

Following two rulings by the Commonwealth Court to end the toll scheme, Governor Wolf signed the revisions to the law.

Statutory changes

Senate Transportation Chairman Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, led efforts to address the P3 Major Bridges initiative.

As agreed with the Governor, the new law increases transparency by requiring PennDOT to publish a detailed analysis and requires the agency to distribute a copy of the P3 Board’s resolution.

A 30-day public comment period must also be completed prior to a P3 Council voting meeting.

Another provision reduces the scope of PennDOT’s power to create user fees for new infrastructure and ensures that the General Assembly has more time to evaluate any transportation project passed by the P3 Council.

Additionally, the new law nullifies the state DOT’s Pathways Major Bridge P3 initiative and limits the scope to nine candidate bridges with no user fees.

“I had serious concerns about PennDOT’s power to essentially tax funds and appropriate funds without additional General Assembly oversight,” Langerholc said in a press release.

He adds that “we had to stop PennDOT from increasing costs for working families in Pennsylvania.”

Bridge Toll Plans

The P3 Major Bridges Initiative has identified the following nine bridges as candidates for tolls:

The Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association and other industry players testified against adding tolls to state bridges. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association also opposes tolls as a way to increase transportation revenue.

Langerholc said SB382 puts a “stop to hostile takeover of PennDOT’s P3 bridge.”

He adds that Pennsylvania can meet statewide bridge needs by mobilizing $4 billion in new funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. LL

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