The Federal Highway Administration's recent decision to disapprove the plan to toll I-80, called for under Act 44, prompted Gov. Ed Rendell to call a special session of the state Legislature on May 4 to address the resulting transportation funding crisis.
As a first step, the governor should resubmit a revised tolling plan that would use all revenues to maintain and improve I-80. In his April 6 letter to Gov. Rendell, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood cited the diversion of toll revenues from I-80 as the reason for rejection of the tolling plan. Tolling of I-80 would relieve PennDOT of $100 million in annual maintenance expenses and improvements for I-80. Tolling of I-79, I-95 and perhaps other interstates should also be considered.
Permitting the ceiling of the oil franchise tax to increase based on the average wholesale price of $2.25 is a fair "user fee" approach that would also help to address the transportation funding crisis. The ceiling has not been increased since 1985. Can you say the same for your utility bills? A modest increase of the vehicle registration fee or implementation of a graduated fee, based on gross vehicle weight, also should be considered.
The core of all these ideas is that significant additional funding is needed to address a major backlog of highway and bridge maintenance needs and expansion projects that is resulting in traffic congestion that hampers economic competitiveness and contributes to unnecessary injuries and deaths.
Ignoring the real transportation needs, including transit, with political posturing and a "just say no" attitude toward any revenue increase or tolling simply ignores the facts and borders on irresponsibility.
JOSEPH P. KIRK
Executive Director, Mon Valley Progress Council