3 legislators propose $1 fee on interstates at borders

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HARRISBURG -- Gov. Ed Rendell has challenged state legislators to come up with ideas for solving the state's $472 million transportation funding problem.

So three Democratic legislators, one from the Pittsburgh area, one from Philadelphia and one from State College, have come up with an idea that they claim could raise at least half the money that's needed.

Reps. Bill Kortz of Dravosburg, Michael O'Brien of Philadelphia and Scott Conklin of Centre County have proposed putting new tolls -- $1 for a passenger vehicle and $5 for trucks -- on interstate highways, at the points where the roads enter and leave Pennsylvania.

If legislation is approved at the special session of the Legislature, new entry/exit tolls would be placed on I-79 in western Pennsylvania, I-90 in northwestern Pennsylvania, I-80 across the northern part of the state, I-81 in central Pennsylvania, I-95 in the Philly area, and on I-78 and I-84 in eastern Pennsylvania.

Mr. Conklin said tolls are user fees paid by people who drive on -- and cause wear and tear on -- the highways, and he thought it was fair for such motorists to pay what he called modest tolls. He also said that much of the toll money would come from out-of-state drivers passing through Pennsylvania and using state roads, which only state residents now pay to maintain.

All the money raised by these entry/exit tolls would be used for upkeep of that particular road, and thus avoid an objection that federal officials had to the previous tolls proposed just for I-80.

Mr. Conklin estimated "conservatively" that between $235 million and $300 million a year could be raised by such entry/exit tolls. For Pennsylvanians who live near a state border -- and thus might travel through the tolls often -- books of tickets, at a reduced price, could be bought, similar to tickets now available for people who frequently cross bridges from Philly to New Jersey, Mr. O'Brien said.

The toll booths would have human toll collectors -- who would work for PennDOT, not the Turnpike Commission -- and also would have metal "baskets" that drivers could drop cash or coins into. The toll "gantries" also would handle cars with EZ-Pass, and also may be equipped with video cameras to take pictures of vehicles' license plates as they go through, and a bill would be sent to a motorist's home.

Tom Barnes: tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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