Rep. John E. Peterson, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and a vocal opponent of a proposal to toll Interstate 80 in the state, said last week that he will not seek re-election in November due to health concerns. “Unfortunately, although still young at heart, a few chronic, non-threatening health issues have to be addressed at home, requiring me to devote more time to my family — time and presence which would not be possible if I sought re-election,” Peterson said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision, and there is never a perfect time to leave public service. Fortunately, there is some comfort in knowing that my work in Washington on such issues as … economic security for the region and state in preventing the tolling of I-80, are on the right track and continued public education and support will bring about the right solutions.”The Titusville, Pa., native was among the most vociferous detractors of a proposal for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to lease I-80 from the state Department of Transportation for 50 years. Under the plan, ratified by the legislature and approved by Gov. Edward G. Rendell in June, the Turnpike would place up to 10 tolling facilities on the 311 miles of I-80 that run through the state. The commission would collect the tolls for 50 years in exchange for paying PennDOT a total of $83.4 billion in regular installments over the same period.PennDOT is expected to receive $750 million in fiscal 2008, $850 million in 2009, and $900 million in 2010. The figure will increase by 2.5% annually beginning in 2011.In total, the plan — known as Act 44 — is expected to raise $116 billion over 50 years for badly needed state transportation improvements, including the $83.4 billion paid by the commission to PennDOT, commission-issued revenue bonds, and increased tolls on the Pennsylvania turnpike.The proposal is currently under consideration by the Federal Highway Administration, which must approve the plan under the federal Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, which allows three toll projects on existing interstates that meet certain criteria. Two of the three projects already have been approved, for I-81 in Virginia and I-70 in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.Last month. Peterson met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and urged her to reject Pennsylvania’s I-80 application because he believes that tolling the road would hurt the region’s manufacturing and economy.“As our commonwealth is climbing further into debt, through this complex borrowing scheme of floating bonds — which has already begun — and paying back hundreds of millions of dollars in interest, it is my sincere hope that Gov. Rendell and our leaders in the General Assembly come to the realization that tolling I-80 is far from a panacea in solving our state’s transportation funding shortfall,” he said in press release after the meeting.Peterson was first elected to Congress in 1997. He represented the fifth district in the northern central part of the state, which includes the towns of Bradford, Oil City, Lewistown, and State College. Prior to that, he was a state senator between 1986 and 1996 and a member of the state House between 1977 and 1984.

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