Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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On the Road Again

Just when you thought it was safe to travel Interstate 80 for free, along comes word that plans to convert I-80 through Pennsylvania into a toll road are not dead yet.

To recap: a while ago, the state legislature (I think it was part of budget negotiations in 2007) okayed Act 44, a plan that promised to solve all of Pennsylvania's transportation problems by turning Interstate 80 into a toll road and by privatizing the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Two years later, none of that has happened. The Feds rejected Plan A for I-80 and then turned down the revised Plan B. State lawmakers put the kibosh on Turnpike privatization on the grounds that the bid by a Spanish-led consortium just wasn't big enough.

Of late, I've not heard much about revitalizing efforts to privatize the Turnpike. But, there are rumblings of a Plan C where tolling I-80 is concerned. Word has it that the Turnpike Commission (which would take responsibility for I-80 if it becomes a toll road) is preparing yet again to ask the Feds to OK the plan.

About the same time those rumbling surfaced, along came efforts at both the state and Federal levels to stop those tolling plans before they get rolling again. In a news release dated May 28, GOP state reps from central PA urged constituents to write to Specter, Casey, et al and urge them to oppose any efforts to turn I-80 into a toll road.

Such correspondence may not be necessary if Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) has her way. It seems that tolling talk is also going on deep in the heart of her home state of Texas. So, on May 20, Hutchison issued THIS news release to let people know that she has introduced a bill that would ban adding tolls to existing federal highways. The news release reads, in part:

"Sen. Hutchison’s legislation would prevent states, private entities, or private-public partnerships from adding tolls on existing free federal highways, bridges, or tunnels built with federal funding. Furthermore, the bill would prohibit states from attempting to purchase highways from the federal government and place them under state ownership or lease them to foreign investors for the purpose of tolling them. The legislation does not prohibit tolls on new construction."

So, two years later, here were are. I-80 is still a toll-free highway. The Turnpike is still run by the Turnpike Commission. And, the roads in PA are still pretty crappy. Will any of that change in another two years? We'll see.

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