Local PA Tolls Considered to Make Up for Federal/State Shortfalls

An initiative in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania would add tolls to a 25 mile stretch of non-Interstate highway to pay for improvements and upgrades that traditional revenues sources simply can’t. The idea is to use electronic tolling to make collection easier and productive. From the Reading, PA Eagle (Dec 12, 2010):

But planners still haven’t forgotten the fallout last year from state lawmakers’ proposal to toll Interstate 80 and spend those proceeds on statewide highway fixes.

When the federal government said no to the plan, all the eggs spilled out of the basket. The backlash will last here for decades at a cost of $8 million per year, PennDOT officials said.

Planners say the two plans are different.

The Route 422 effort would keep the toll funds on the road where they were collected.

If the latest toll proposal gets federal approval, drivers can expect tolls similar to Pennsylvania Turnpike fees, with time-saving videosurveillance technology such as EZPass.

“I don’t think anybody involved, if they had a choice, would suggest putting a toll on 422,” Piper said.

But federal and state funding as it stands isn’t paying the tab for necessary repairs.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that tolling can be “double” taxation. The unfortunate reality, however, is that general tax funding for roads has not be adequate to keep up with repairs or maintenance let alone new capacity. The only viable long term solution is a substitution of user fees for general taxes where possible when road funds are inadequate to maintain existing facilities. I think this is what is playing out in the controversy along Route 422 in the Philly area.