VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (AP) The leading regional planner for southeastern Pennsylvania thinks that tolling U.S. Route 422 to generate highway funding is good for starters.
What about tolling Interstate 95? Or the Schuylkill Expressway, a congested stretch of Interstate 76 that runs from the Pennsylvania Turnpike exit at Valley Forge to downtown Philadelphia?
That is what Barry Seymour, executive director of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, is tossing out for discussion. He would like area drivers to look at the big picture.
Seymour brought up those possibilities during a presentation on Nov. 2, in a hotel just off that Valley Forge exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as part of a conference sponsored by the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association.
“I wanted to get people thinking,” Seymour said, about the types of roads that could be tolled.
Seymour would like people to think of tolls as a utility bill like power, telephone and water. People derive a lot of benefits from roads, benefits that for the most part they do not pay for directly at present.
Michael E. Herron, executive director of Transportation Management Association of Chester County, thinks tolling existing roads in the suburbs will be “a tough sell.’’
“Tolling I-80, if you think that’s been difficult, I can’t imagine coming up with a toll on I-95 or the Schuylkill,’’ Herron said.
Approximately a year ago, the Federal Highway Administration halted the state’s Interstate 80 tolling plan, saying it was “unable to move the application forward,’’ and raising a number of questions. This fall, state officials formally responded, providing more financial details about the plan.
Resistance is coming from all angles, including the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Clarion County Economic Development and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, among others.
And that is rural Pennsylvania. Herron points out that opposition to tolls in the more affluent, politically active region around Philadelphia would be daunting.
In southeastern Pennsylvania, “with the wealthy people in Montgomery and Chester counties, anybody with any intelligence knows it will be a fight,’’ Herron said.
Ted Leonard, executive director of Pennsylvania AAA Federation, said there has been a lot of discussion about additional funding to shore up the $1.7 billion shortfall between the state’s highway dollars and needed road repairs.
“All the tools should be examined — public-private partnerships, vehicle miles tax, congestion pricing or higher vehicle registration fees,’’ Leonard said.
But when it comes to existing highways, AAA feels that is not a place to start tolling, Leonard said. They were already paid for by gas taxes and other public money, he said.
In a phone interview following his conference presentation, Seymour noted that Interstate 95 is already tolled in New York as the New York Turnpike. To the south, I-95 is tolled through Delaware and Virginia.
It would not be a “foreign’’ idea to toll it through Pennsylvania, he said.
Maryland is working on express toll lanes, or “ETLs,’’ on I-95 in that state.
Once complete, the Maryland I-95 ETLs Project will ease congestion and increase safety, according to officials, by adding two new ETLs in each direction along 10 miles of I-95, among other improvements.
Motorists can choose to travel the general purpose lanes at no cost, or pay a toll to use the ETLs, which will be managed for relatively congestion-free traffic flow.
Seymour calls that the “next generation’’ of tolls.
Places like Seattle have a comprehensive network of tolled roads, Seymour pointed out.
With U.S. Route 422, officials in southeastern Pennsylvania are taking bids from consultants who will study the tolling of a 25-mi. section that runs through Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties.
A consultant will be selected by the end of 2009 and the feasibility study will begin in 2010, Seymour said.
Questions to be looked at are the cost to establish tolling stations, how the tolls would be collected, who would collect the tolls, how much it would cost to administer toll collection and how would the money be used. Possibilities for the money could include highway projects or extending a commuter rail line in the region, Seymour said.
Charlie Metzger, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said he could not comment on U.S. Route 422 tolling because, like the tolling of I-80, it will take federal approval to make it happen.
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