Chamber president Fred Gaffney expressed the Chamber’s opposition to PennDOT’s plan to implement tolling on the Interstate 80 bridge over Nescopeck Creek at a public hearing last week. As part of the growing statewide No P3 Bridge Tolling coalition, the Chamber is working to prevent excessive burdens on businesses and communities by stopping the plan to begin tolling on nine interstate bridges across Pennsylvania starting next year. The hearing, hosted by PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, was held Thursday, May 12th at the Nescopeck Township Social Hall.
While the hearing was specifically to receive comments on the environmental assessment, coalition members oppose the plan generally due to the belief that the Public-Private Partnership (P3) Board exceeded its authority by failing comply with statutory mandates when it approved the initiative prior to identifying specific projects, and that PennDOT and its Secretary lack the authority to identify, evaluate, and approve those projects.
Additionally, as of May 6th, PennDOT executed a pre-development agreement with Bridging Pennsylvania Partners LLC. Coalition members believe it is inappropriate to enter into any such agreements before the public hearing process is completed, and prior to the appropriate Federal authorizations, which could significantly change the scope of projects.
Spot tolling will increase costs for individuals and businesses that must use these bridges, at a time of high inflation and dramatically increasing fuel costs. The Chamber has heard concerns from a number of members about the current challenges with transportation costs.
The route PennDOT has identified for motorists to avoid the toll will increase traffic volume in several municipalities including Nescopeck and Berwick boroughs. The environmental assessment does not address the impacts on air quality, noise, safety, roadways, and businesses in these communities.
The Chamber is urging PennDOT to abandon this spot-tolling plan, and work with the legislature to identify sustainable funding sources that do not cause undue negative impacts to businesses, residents, and communities in and around project areas. “Pennsylvania just realized its most tax revenue in a single month in April at $6.5 billion dollars, $1.8 billion over projections,” said Gaffney. “Additionally, the Commonwealth has significant American Rescue Plan funds and new federal infrastructure funding to more than adequately address these nine most urgent projects. Moving forward with the Major Bridge P3 program is not only inappropriate, but unnecessary based on these facts.”
The environment assessment and other project details are available at www.penndot.pa.gov/i80Nescopeck. Written comments may be submitted through May 27th by mail to: PennDOT District 4, Attn: I-80 Nescopeck Creek Bridges Project, 55 Keystone Industrial Park, Dunmore, PA 18512, email to i80Nescopeck@pa.gov, or online at www.penndot.pa.gov/i80Nescopeck.