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Feds reject Pa.’s I-80 tolling plan

Posted By eTrucker Staff On September 11, 2008 @ 7:20 pm In News & Stories | Comments Disabled

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said the Federal Highway Administration’s refusal to grant the state permission to toll Interstate 80 should motivate the Legislature to approve leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

On Sept. 11, the FHWA announced it rejected the Pennsylvania transportation department’s and turnpike commission’s application to toll. Under the proposal, PennDOT would transfer I-80 to the commission and make payments.

“Planned use of toll revenues does not meet federal requirements as there is no basis to conclude that the proposed lease payments are legitimate operating costs,” the U.S. DOT said. Toll revenue can be used for lease payments, but the payment must be based on “objective market valuation.”

Further, federal officials had asked for that justification when it returned the entities’ original Dec. 12 application for more information. No additional material supporting the lease payment level was sent in the July 22 application, they said.

Federal Highway Administrator Tom Madison said, “There is simply no evidence that the lease payments are related to the actual costs of acquiring an interest in the facility.”

Barry Ciccocioppo, a spokesman for the Democrat governor, said Rendell was disappointed. “The governor said we need to take action while the lease is on the table,” Ciccocioppo said.

Last year, the Democrat governor signed Act 44, the state transportation funding plan for highway, bridges and mass transit that authorizes the Turnpike to lease operational control of I-80 from PennDOT for 50 years.

Act 44 requires the Turnpike to provide PennDOT with $83.3 billion over 50 years. It also would implement Turnpike toll increases of 25 percent this January and increases of up to 3 percent each following year. Ciccocioppo said not tolling I-80 will result in n $450 million shortfall for the Act 44 plan.

Rendell has backed allowing a U.S.-Spanish business consortium to lease the 514-mile road for 75 years. The proposal was met with wide-spread opposition, including in the Legislature, which would have to grant permission to lease the road.

Democrat Rep. Joseph Markosek, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said a bill that would have permitted leasing was sent to his committee June 5. It was flawed in various ways, including not holding the lessees publicly accountable. Hearings on the matter caused the committee to believe the lease was worth only $8.5 billion, a figure Rendell disputes.

The Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association cheered the news because it maintains imposing tolling on I-80 would violate federal law.

Joe Brimmeier, Turnpike chief executive officer, said he had no comment until the FHWA notified them officially.

U.S. Rep. John Peterson said he because he believes tolling would hurt the state’s economy and highway revenues should not go for non-highway projects such as mass transit.

“The legal decision rendered today by the FHWA is not subject to appeal and the application can not be resubmitted,” Peterson said. “Game over.”


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