Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission chief executive officer Joseph Brimmeier Wednesday urged more tolling of interstate highways to help generate additional revenue for transportation needs.
Brimmeier testified before the state Senate’s Transportation Committee during a hearing on funding issues. Pennsylvania faces a $472.5 million shortfall in fiscal 2011 for roads, bridges, and mass transit infrastructure projects. Fiscal 2011 began July 1.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said the Obama administration opposes raising the federal gas tax. Brimmeier believes that decision could lead to additional tolling on interstates.
He mentioned several roadways that could see tolling in the future, including Interstate 95, which runs from Maine to Florida along the Atlantic Coast, Interstate 80, the East-West roadway that connects California to New Jersey and runs through the center of Pennsylvania, and Interstate 79, a North-South thoroughfare that runs in the western section of the state, among other interstates.
“I don’t know off the top of my head any other way to help fund this gap than to encourage the federal government to allow states to have the option of putting tolls on [interstates],” Brimmeier said. “You can name whatever one you want and eventually, I think, in our lifetime we’re going to see tolls, just because there’s no other way to fund.”
The Federal Highway Administration twice rejected Pennsylvania’s request to toll its portion of I-80, as toll revenues must be used exclusively for the facility being tolled.
That decision opened up the $472.5 million funding gap for transportation needs in the current fiscal year. The state had budgeted the expected I-80 toll revenue and the bond proceeds that such a revenue stream could produce.
Brimmeier acknowledged that future tolling on interstates would not solve Pennsylvania’s funding gap this year.
The PTC oversees the 530-mile turnpike, which runs east-west in the southern part of the state. The commission helps support transportation funding through Act 44. Under that law, the PTC makes yearly payments to Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation, with most of those payments financed mainly through bond sales. Absent I-80 toll revenue, the commission’s total fiscal 2011 payment to PennDOT is $450 million, $472.5 million less than the anticipated $922.5 million payment.
The PTC earlier this month approved a turnpike toll increase for Jan 1. Cash tolls will increase by 10% while E-Zpass users will pay 3% more. Officials anticipate $35 million of additional revenue from the increase.
Brimmeier and committee members did not discuss other potential funding solutions for fiscal 2011, including a possible increase in the state’s gas tax or Gov. Edward Rendell’s proposal to place an excess profits tax on oil companies. The governor believes such a tax would generate $750 million per year.