Feds reject I-80 toll plan, SEPTA projects on hold
PHILADELPHIA - April 8, 2010 -- The federal government has rejected Pennsylvania's application to turn Interstate 80 into a toll highway, Gov. Ed Rendell said this week, eliminating a key source of money to pay for highway, bridge and mass transit projects across the state.
Without the I-80 tolls, the state is $750 million short of what a Rendell-appointed commission recommended be spent annually to maintain Pennsylvania's transportation infrastructure. It also has a backlog of $11 billion in bridge repairs that are awaiting funding, PennDOT says.
Locally, SEPTA had been counting on $110 million a year from the tolling plan, or about one-fourth of its capital budget.
Without it, over 20 projects will be put on hold, including a new fare collection system and the reconstruction of the Broad Street subway station beneath City Hall. Rendell also said I-80 will receive $20 million a year in repair money, but would have gotten $50 million a year had tolling been approved.
The decision was a victory for many lawmakers and congressmen across northern Pennsylvania who had opposed the idea as an unfair burden on the residents and businesses they represent. It also could set up a thorny, election-year search by lawmakers for money to maintain a state transportation system already considered underfunded.
Rendell said he would call a special session of the Legislature to find a way to replace the $450 million-plus per year that tolls were to produce for transportation projects.
The decision has dire consequences for jobs, commerce and quality of life, and he contacted legislative leaders to urge them to act quickly on a plan to replace the money, he said.
"I have no preconceived notions, I have no one plan, the only thing I know is that we cannot, this commonwealth cannot, afford for us to do nothing," Rendell told reporters. He said one idea was to revisit his proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private entity, a plan that was previously killed in the Legislature.
The Federal Highway Administration said it rejected the application because money from I-80 tolls could only have been used to operate and maintain the highway itself, but Pennsylvania's application went beyond that. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the $472 million from the tolls in the 2010-11 budget year would have been part of $2.9 billion in highway and bridge improvements and $1.6 billion in state and federal support for mass transit.
philadelphia, pennsylvania, SEPTA, gov. ed rendell, local/state
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