Commissioners for both Columbia and Montour County and the Board of The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce recently passed resolutions opposing PennDOT’s plan to implement tolling on nine bridges on Pennsylvania interstates beginning in 2023. The Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) Initiative would include tolling of the Westbound Nescopeck Creek Bridge in lower Luzerne County. The resolutions support legislation in Harrisburg and a lawsuit filed by several municipalities to block the tolling.
PennDOT’s plan to toll bridges in need of repair or replacement was approved by the Pennsylvania P3 Board in November, 2020. In 2021, the agency held public information sessions to provide details on the nine projects identified. Initially, the plan included tolling in both directions, but was later modified to toll each project area in only one direction. With the anticipation that some volume of traffic will divert around tolled areas, PennDOT identified diversion routes. For the Nescopeck Creek project, the diversion route is Exit 256 onto Route 93 through Nescopeck and Berwick boroughs. Local municipalities have expressed concerns about the impacts of increased vehicle traffic, including safety and wear and tear on local roads.
Businesses are concerned about increased transportation costs. The proposed toll for passenger vehicles is $1 to $2 per vehicle, while commercial vehicles would start at $10. As it would be impractical for many commercial vehicles to take diversion routes, the cost of moving materials across the Interstate would increase daily, particularly for vehicles that would travel through multiple toll areas.
“PennDOT’s bridge tolling plan will create significant disruptions for communities and cost increases for businesses in those project areas,” said Fred Gaffney, Chamber president. “It’s reasonable to expect that, if allowed to move forward, PennDOT will continue the strategy across the state, creating disruptions in other areas. PennDOT and the legislature need to develop a sustainable plan for funding Pennsylvania’s infrastructure that minimizes these disruptions.”
PA Senate Bill 382, co-sponsored by Senator John Gordner, would effectively block PennDOT’s plan by requiring approval for specific tolling by the House and Senate. The legislation passed in the Senate in April and a modified version was approved by the House in November. While the Senate is reviewing the modified version, Governor Wolf is expected to veto it. The Chamber of Commerce supports SB382.
Three municipalities just Southwest of Pittsburgh are pursuing another course of action to stop PennDOT’s plan. South Fayette Township, Bridgeville Borough, and Collier Township in Allegheny County have filed a legal challenge in Commonwealth Court regarding the process defined for implementing tolls. The legislation that allows PennDOT to pursue P3 initiatives requires that specific projects be identified and the impacted municipalities notified prior to approval from the governing body. According to the challenge, that process was not followed. The attorneys representing the municipalities are expecting to present oral arguments in March with the hope of a ruling soon thereafter. As this legal challenge is specific to a bridge in Western PA, the legal team has suggested that other interested groups support this action with the hope that the final ruling will apply to all nine projects. The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce is coordinating with other chambers of commerce across the state and state legislators which led to the resolutions that were passed by the Chamber and County Commissioners.