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Letter to the Editor: Rebuttal to Secretary Gramian Op-Ed

Saturday, March 19, 2022 @ 12:03 AM

Posted by exploreClarion

letter to editor ECCLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – Tracy Becker, Executive Director, Clarion Area Chamber of Business and Industry, submitted the following letter regarding the No P3 Bridge Tolling Coalition.

Rebuttal to Secretary Gramian Op-Ed
NO P3 Bridge Tolls Coalition

A recently published letter from Secretary Gramian “Op-Ed: Public Engagement, Feedback Central to PennDOT’s Bridge Plan”, falls short of explaining the impacts of tolling bridges in our communities and relies on red herring arguments to justify a costly, inequitable, and unnecessary expansion of state government. On November 12, 2020, the Pennsylvania Public Private Partnership (P3) Board approved the Major Bridge Initiative, to use the P3 delivery model for bridges in need of rehabilitation or replacement. In response to the efforts to forge ahead with these tolls, the NO P3 Bridge Tolling Coalition was created. The Coalition is comprised of local chambers, economic development organizations, businesses, and impacted communities across PA.

We appreciate that PennDOT notes they made changes to their original P3 tolling plans from comments they received, but the overwhelming response PennDOT seems to be ignoring was the request to NOT implement these tolls on the Canoe Creek in Clarion County and North Fork in Jefferson County nor the seven other bridges across Pennsylvania. PennDOT and the P3 Board’s failures to abide by statutorily mandated requirements to truly engage with the tolling affected communities and businesses prior to the adoption of a P3 Project has also led to litigation initiated by South Fayette Township and neighboring municipalities in Allegheny County. This lawsuit has been supported by numerous local governments and business organizations across PA who all agree PennDOT and the P3 Board violated the public comment process and statutorily mandated processes to implement these tolls. The lawsuit asserts that the P3 Board failed to identify specific projects for approval and also provide the legislature which statutorily required notice of what was being approved. The lawsuit also asserts that the P3 Board’s failures stripped the legislature of its statutory oversight ability to reject projects approved by the P3 Board as permitted under Act 88.

We recognize that many of our bridges need repair but feel the P3 bridge tolling initiative has been flawed from the start for the following reasons:

  • Lack of oversight from the beginning and outside of the legislative intent of P3.
  • The board passed the initiative without doing the local community impact studies prior to naming the bridges.
  • Full cost impact analysis wasn’t completed prior to contracts being signed to erect the tolling infrastructure.
  • This past November, the PA General Assembly passed a measure requiring legislative approval of specific proposals to add tolls. The legislature has suggested several alternative revenue-generating options, but Governor Wolf and PennDOT are not working with the legislature to find other, more equitable solutions.

Sec. Gramian’s letter glossed over a few important issues that the NO P3 Bridge Tolling Coalition would like to make PA residents aware of including:

  • Vehicle diversions to avoid tolls will affect Main Street Businesses by creating more traffic with less parking, deter customers, and speed up deterioration of local roadways.
  • Emergency Medical Services (EMS) could get caught in diverted/disrupted local traffic which will impact response times on an already short-staffed and under-funded emergency services in rural areas.
  • The cost per bridge toll will be $1-$2/car and $8-$12/trucks and other large wheelbase vehicles including RVs. According to the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, the cost to operate a truck in PA will increase by over $6,000 annually. These costs will be passed on to consumers, exacerbating an already inflated market.
  • Tolling expenses will create a financial burden on local businesses and employees that rely on these roads such as Manufactured Homes and Home Health/Hospice/Homecare agencies. These tolls will force manufactured home businesses to charge more to cover the added operational and transportation costs. Healthcare is not able to increase their own payment rates because rates are set by state/federal regulations and commercial insurers. PA Medicaid rates have not seen an increase in over 20 years. Traveling nurses and home aides will be forced to absorb these expenses or seek out other jobs, putting additional strain on an already burdened care system.
  • Businesses in PA could simply choose to relocate to avoid these burdensome tolls or to never locate in PA at all. PA’s high gas tax, coupled with our nation-leading 9.99% corporate net income tax and other regulatory burdens continues to negatively impact rural economic development. As a result, our population is declining, and we continue to lose seats in Congress instead of adopting pro-growth policies like Texas and Florida. These tolls would do even further damage to our statewide and local economies.
  • A large portion of the funds collected from the gas tax that should be used for infrastructure spending is still being used to fund the PA State Police (PSP). The PSP is an important service, but when the legislature increased the gas tax under Act 89 of 2013, the funds were intended for bridge repair and road construction. Moving the PSP to the General Fund would make available several hundred million dollars for infrastructure improvement today.
  • Sec. Gramian stated that the tolls will help reduce instances such as the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse in Pittsburgh. This is a red herring argument. That bridge is wholly owned and operated by the City of Pittsburgh and the P3 tolls will not be legally allowed to be used on locations other than the place where the toll is being collected.
  • PennDOT plans to rely on the same toll collection technology that cost the PA Turnpike over $104 million in uncollected tolls in 2020.
  • PennDOT has been firm in their resolve to toll the nine bridges currently on their list, but should this process stand, there is nothing to stop them from implementing tolls on additional bridges across PA in their never-ending search for more money.

The NO P3 Bridge Tolling Coalition is leading the charge against this unnecessary overreach by the Wolf Administration and PennDOT. These tolls will have a lasting negative impact on the communities in Clarion County and Jefferson County.

Please join us in telling Governor Wolf and Sec. Gramian NO to the P3 Bridge Tolls. Like our group on Facebook (@NoP3BridgeTolls) to stay informed of the latest news and upcoming events. Help us spread the word within our local communities. We defeated the tolling of I-80 and we can defeat this tolling proposal with your help, too.

By Tracy Becker
Executive Director
Clarion Area Chamber of Business and Industry

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of exploreClarion.com.

To submit a letter to the editor, email [email protected]


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