Nine Pennsylvania bridges were identified on Friday – including one on Interstate 81 in Great Bend Township – that are being considered for tolling as part of the PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) Initiative.
“Our reliance on funding models from the last century leaves us especially vulnerable to fund losses stemming from volatile economic conditions and the increasing transition to alternative fuel or electric vehicles,” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. “This initiative will help us make much-needed improvements without compromising the routine projects our communities and industry partners rely on.”
According to information released by PennDOT, a study is underway to identify near- and long-term funding solutions for the state’s transportation system. One of the early findings of the study is that tolling of major bridges in need of replacement or rehabilitation appears to be a viable near-term solution.
It’s a proposal that some local leaders say will cause other issues, including increasing traffic on Route 11 as motorists look to avoid the bridge toll.
One area of concern is the intersection of Routes 11 and 492 in New Milford Borough. Over the past several years, the borough council has sought out help in addressing the issue from the state.
New Milford Borough Council President Teri Gulick said, “New Milford already has a serious problem with the traffic at the SR 492/SR 11 intersection. We’ve been told for three years that state’s budget included $50,000 to do a traffic study there, the first step in finding a solution to alleviate a dangerous situation. To date, we haven’t heard of any progress.”
Gulick said the tolling on the interstate “will undoubtedly bring an increase in traffic as traveler’s exit to avoid it. New Milford cannot handle any increase in traffic. This move would be catastrophic to the borough.”
County Commissioner Alan Hall said he thought the toll proposal could be a “ploy” by the state to justify adding a natural gas severance tax or an increase to personal income tax.
“Some of the facts still remain the same,” Hall said. “We have 2,500 bridges in the state in critical condition and need to be replaced.”
He said he believed the nine-mile I-81 project – which calls for reconstruction and repair work along highway from New Milford Borough to the New York border and is expected to cost $175-200 million – was supposed to be funded by federal highway dollars and the state.
Hall questioned, “How do we have the highest gas tax and the worst roads? What is going on with the money in Harrisburg?”
The commissioner compared the price of gasoline in Pennsylvania due to the state’s gas tax to neighboring New York, where it costs about 20 cents less per gallon. He noted that many county residents travel across the border to fuel up their cars.
“It’s going to be same with a toll – anybody that can avoid it is going to avoid it,” he said, and wondered at how increased traffic on the road would tie up flow for residents along the corridor. “Route 11 already has major problems.”
According to the PennDOT release, the bridges being considered for tolling through the Major Bridge P3 Initiative are structures of substantial size that warrant timely attention and would require significant funds to rehabilitate or replace. Additionally, these bridges were selected based on the feasibility of construction beginning in two to four years to maximize near-term benefits, and with the intention that their locations are geographically balanced to avoid impact to just one region.
In addition to the I-81 bridge in Susquehanna County, other projects under consideration and for which a public involvement process begins this spring includes:
- I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project (Berks County);
- I-79 Widening, Bridges and Bridgeville Interchange Reconfiguration (Allegheny County);
- I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges (Clarion County);
- I-80 Nescopeck Creek Bridges (Luzerne County);
- I-80 North Fork Bridges Project (Jefferson County);
- I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project (Luzerne and Carbon counties);
- I-83 South Bridge Project (Dauphin County); and
- I-95 Girard Point Bridge Improvement Project (Philadelphia County).
According to PennDOT, tolling would be all electronic and collected by using E-ZPass or license plate billing. The funds received from the toll would go back to the bridge where the toll is collected to pay for the construction, maintenance and operation of that bridge.
More information on each individual bridge project, and when the public will have an opportunity to engage on those projects, can be found at www.penndot.gov/funding and on the project pages.
For more information about PennDOT Pathways and the Major Bridge P3 Initiative, visit www.penndot.gov/funding.