PennDOT floats adding tolls to area bridges in public-private initiative

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HARRISBURG, DAUPHIN COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is considering adding tolls to bridges to pay for repair and rehabilitation.

The tolls would be added as part of the PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) Initiative.

“Our reliance on funding models from the last century leaves us especially vulnerable to fund losses stemming from volatile economic conditions and the increasing transition to alternative-fuel or electric vehicles,” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said in a release. “This initiative will help us make much-needed improvements without compromising the routine projects our communities and industry partners rely on.”

According to the department, $8.1 billion is needed to repair bridges and highways. They say that a planning study found tolling of major bridges in need of repair may be a viable solution, leading to the proposal of the Major Bridge P3 initiative.

The initiative was approved by the Pennsylvania P3 board in November of 2020, allowing PennDOT to use public-private partnerships to fund major bridge repair. The model leverages private investment to rebuild bridges, something department says could create significant savings over the life of the program.

All the bridges in the program are considered to be in need of rehabilitation or replacement. PennDOT says they were also selected because of feasibility of construction beginning in two to four years with public involvement beginning as soon as spring of 2021.

The Major Bridge P3 initiative could add tolls to:

  • I-78 Lenhartsville Bridge Replacement Project (Berks County);
  • I-79 Widening, Bridges and Bridgeville Interchange Reconfiguration (Allegheny County);
  • I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges (Clarion County);
  • I-80 Nescopeck Creek Bridges (Luzerne County);
  • I-80 North Fork Bridges Project (Jefferson County);
  • I-80 Over Lehigh River Bridge Project (Luzerne and Carbon counties);
  • I-81 Susquehanna Project (Susquehanna County);
  • I-83 South Bridge Project (Dauphin County); and
  • I-95 Girard Point Bridge Improvement Project (Philadelphia County).

Tolling would be entirely electronic and collected using E-ZPass or lincese plate billing. The funds collected would go back to the specific bridge to pay for construction and maintenance.

Over the next year, PennDOT says the bridges they are looking at will be individually evaluated. The public will be able to engage on the project through the PennDot website. PennDOT says the they will “ensure fair, competitive and local participation in the p3 procurement” of the bridges.

PennDOT says that most of the department’s funding comes from gas taxes but income is declining due to alternative fuels and efficiency.

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