Thompson on I-80

Republican Congressman Glenn Thompson, a high-profile opponent of the I-80 tolling measure,calls the Federal Highway Administration’s decision “a victory for the people of the commonwealth.” As for the daunting financial situation Pennsylvania now faces, Thompson says, ““The last time I spoke to Governor Ed Rendell about this issue, he told me there is no plan B.  This was reaffirmed with the Governor’s latest budget proposal, which anticipates revenue from I-80 tolls. For the past three years the Commonwealth has put all its eggs in the tolling basket and disregarded other options for funding highways and transit. I let the Governor know this is unacceptable.”

Full release below:

Thompson Applauds FHWA Decision to Reject Tolling I-80

Washington, D.C.—U.S. Representative Glenn `GT’ Thompson, R-Howard, who led the fight against tolling Interstate 80, today applauded the decision by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to reject the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s application to toll I-80.

“It is clear that the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood followed the letter of the law in making this decision,” said Thompson.  “Act 44 never met the criteria set by the federal law. This is the third time FHWA has turned down the application, and we can only hope the third time is the charm, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Governor and leaders in Harrisburg will get realistic about the Commonwealth’s transportation future.”

“The last time I spoke to Governor Ed Rendell about this issue, he told me there is no plan B.  This was reaffirmed with the Governor’s latest budget proposal, which anticipates revenue from I-80 tolls. For the past three years the Commonwealth has put all its eggs in the tolling basket and disregarded other options for funding highways and transit. I let the Governor know this is unacceptable,” said Thompson.

Thompson organized several meetings to educate federal officials involved in the decision making process to the shortcomings of Pennsylvania’s tolling application and the grave economic impacts it would have on the state.

On November 19th, 2009, Thompson facilitated a meeting with FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez and the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation; several members opposing the tolling plan and interested in gaining more information attended. On December 10th, 2009, Thompson wrote a detailed letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood expressing all of the strong reasons why I-80 should not be tolled.

Then Thompson and other Members along the I-80 corridor invited a number of State legislators to attend a briefing on December 17th with FHWA Deputy Administrator Greg Nadeau.  In that session, 13 State representatives had an opportunity to tell the Deputy Administrator what even the threat of tolling I-80 has already done to local businesses and industry in their areas.

“I would be remiss not to thank the grassroots coalitions and elected officials, who have worked tirelessly to fight this most recent proposal and put an organized voice to the countless Pennsylvanians opposed to the efforts to toll I-80,” said Thompson.

“I and my staff have been in constant contact with the Department of Transportation. Through the interactions there was a request to make our case directly to Secretary LaHood.  It was gratifying when he called to set up a meeting for January 19th 2010, in my office,” added Thompson.

Thompson reached out to three of his Congressional colleagues, who, along with Thompson, represent the I-80 corridor and more than 50 percent of Pennsylvania’s land mass. They are: Representatives Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Erie, Paul Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, and Chris Carney, D-Dimock, who joined the meeting with LaHood to make their case against tolling.

“I made the Secretary aware of three strong reasons I-80 should not be converted to a toll road.  The first is that it does not meet the rule of law, which clearly spells out that tolling an Interstate should be the last resort—allowed only if there were no other way to improve the highway.  Second, the prospect of tolling would have devastating economic impact and ignored local interests.  And finally, I strongly oppose the idea that the state should double the size and scope of the corrupt, patronage-ridden Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and allow them to manage the road in addition to the Turnpike,” said Thompson.

“Today is a victory for the people of the Commonwealth, but the battle is far from over.  Thanks to Act 44 the Turnpike Commission is up to its eyeballs in debt because of the borrowing done based on the premise that I-80 would be tolled. In light of this announcement, I call on our legislative leaders in Harrisburg and all members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation—including those seven who sit on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,  to come together to find viable and sustainable solutions to our highway and transit funding. The future of Pennsylvania’s transportation system depends upon it and the taxpayers deserve as much,” concluded Thompson.

About pubradiopolitics
Scott covers state government and politics for Pennsylvania's public radio stations, including WITF in Harrisburg, WHYY in Philadelphia and WDUQ in Pittsburgh.

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