The state did not provide details of how it intends to improve the interstate.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU
An application to place toll booths on Interstate 80 has been sent back to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission for lack of details.
But turnpike officials say the return was not unexpected and they will continue efforts to make the free road a toll road.
Joe Brimmeier, chief executive officer of the turnpike commission, referred to the matter as a “request for more information” from the Federal Highway Administration and not a denial, according to a written statement released Thursday.
“We are pleased that the FHWA has sent us this request for additional information. A project of this magnitude naturally is going to entail a considerable amount of information sharing among the agencies involved. In fact, we fully expected there would be an ongoing dialogue between the FHWA, PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission throughout this process,” he said in the statement.
U.S. Rep. Phil English of Erie, R-3rd, a major opponent of the tolling plan, however, sees things differently.
“It’s clear that the turnpike has not yet completed even basic consultations with local agencies, let alone collaborated with local leaders in developing a final project. Their application proves to be woefully inadequate and silent on a lot of key details,” English said.
He lauded the federal highway officials for their thorough review of the application.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission took ownership of Interstate 80 from the state department of transportation last summer after the state Legislature passed legislation allowing the move.
It is expected to raise $116 billion over the next 50 years to meet a state transportation funding gap.
The commission has applied for the tolls under the FHWA’s Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.
The program allows three interstate highways, bridges or tunnels to be tolled to raise money for those facilities that could not otherwise be adequately maintained or improved without that money, according to the FHWA Web site. None of the three spots have been awarded by the FHWA.
Opponents contend that money raised on I-80 will be used to fund other state transportation needs, specifically the public transit systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Federal officials in their memorandum to the turnpike commission state the application does not contain information required for acceptance into the program.
Missing in the application are specific details about improvements planned for I-80. There are also questions about funding and where the money raised on I-80 will be used.
On the state level, lawmakers opposed to the tolling plan continue their efforts to repeal the state legislation approving it.
State Rep. Michele Brooks of Jamestown co-sponsored legislation repealing the law in the Statehouse.
“When this legislation came before us in July, I knew it would be a detriment to our region, and that was one of the many reasons why I oppose this bill and voted against it,” Brooks said.
“I-80 is crucial to the economic development and the commerce of our region. Without this transportation lifeline, our regional economy will suffer as well as our residents.”