How GOP state senators hope to quash PennDOT plan to toll bridges

J.D. Prose
Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau

Several Republican Pennsylvania senators on Thursday called on the Legislature to pass a bill that would reform a little-known transportation office and nix a PennDOT plan to toll nine bridges in the state.  

“The Legislature has to have a position in actions such as tolling nine bridges in the state of Pennsylvania,” said state Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery County during a press conference in the Capitol.

“It is, ultimately, the people we represent who will pay those tolls.”  

On Feb. 18, PennDOT announced the bridge renovation plan approved by the Public-Private Transportation Partnership (P3) would be funded by tolls on several bridges, including:

  • I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project (Berks County) 
  • I-79 Widening, Bridges and Bridgeville Interchange Reconfiguration (Allegheny County)
  • I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges (Clarion County)
  • I-80 Nescopeck Creek Bridges (Luzerne County)
  • I-80 North Fork Bridges Project (Jefferson County) 
  • I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project (Luzerne and Carbon counties) 
  • I-81 Susquehanna Project (Susquehanna County)
  • I-83 South Bridge Project (Dauphin County)
  • I-95 Girard Point Bridge Improvement Project (Philadelphia) 

The Associated Press reported last month that PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian told lawmakers that tolls would be between $1 and $2, likely both ways, raise about $2.2 billion and last from the start of construction in 2023 for about three or four years until projects are completed.

In that same meeting, state Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne County, reminded his Republican colleagues opposing the tolls that the Legislature was warned of possible issues with tolling when they passed the legislation creating the P3 in 2012. 

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GOP plan to nix bridge tolls

Senate Bill 382, introduced by Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Cambria County, the same day as PennDOT’s announcement would change how the P3 operates.  

During the press conference Thursday, Langerholc said that his reforms include requiring detailed analyses of P3 projects before board meetings, creating a 30-day window for public comment prior to board meetings and making any fees, such as tolls, unapproved unless the Legislature passes a concurrent resolution supporting the moves.  

Langerholc said he understands the transportation funding issues facing PennDOT, but “our answers to fix revenue problems within this commonwealth cannot be merely met with tacit approval for another tax, another fee or another toll on the backs of the hardworking families and residents of this great commonwealth.”  

Besides the financial impact on drivers, senators said the tolls, which they called an tax in disguise, would adversely affect businesses and endanger economic growth just as Pennsylvanians are coming out from yearlong pandemic restrictions.  

“Are we creating winners and losers with the way we’re tolling bridges? I think we are,” said Mensch, who expressed concerns about commercial development in Berks County if an I-78 bridge were tolled.  

Sen. Devlin Robinson, R-Allegheny County, shared comments from a local restaurant owner who said that it would take him 24 to 30 months to simple break even from pandemic restrictions if normal capacity resumes soon 

“If this toll goes through, he will never stand a chance,” Robinson said. “If this happens, it will be the nail in his coffin.”  

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J.D. Prose is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jprose@gannett.com.