– In an effort to keep the business community informed, Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne) hosted a virtual forum today to discuss the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) proposal to toll nine interstate bridges across the Commonwealth.
Unveiled last week, the controversial plan to raise revenue for bridge replacement and maintenance includes the Nescopeck Creek and Lehigh River bridges along Interstate 80 in Luzerne and Carbon counties.
Toohil was joined by a panel of government and business leaders to provide updated information and answer questions relating to the potential negative impact of the Wolf administration’s tolling plan to the regional economy.
“The bridges bookend Luzerne County on east and west,” said Toohil. “The tolls are expected to range from $1 to $2, which would be a real hardship for commuters and the companies that moved here to take advantage of our location and highway system.”
Sen. John Yudichak (I-14) believes the proposal could not have come at a worse time and will slow the economic growth currently taking place along the Hazleton corridor.
“This could have a significant negative impact on the economy in our region,” said Yudichak. “Luzerne County would have to shoulder 25% of the entire statewide tolling burden if this is agreed to by PennDOT. I don’t know why the residents and businesses in Luzerne County should have to do that.”
“Identifying two bridges surrounding the Hazleton area has impact on the location decisions of companies and how these developers are going to invest their dollars,” Greater Hazleton CAN DO Inc. president and CEO Joseph Lettiere noted. “Additionally, the workforce we depend on has a wide commute pattern and this workforce will be impacted by the tolls on these bridges.”
According to Luzerne County Manager Dave Pedri the numbers do not make sense, “The conservative estimate for the upkeep of the Nescopeck Creek Bridge is $195 million. PennDOT says over 30 years, the tolls for that bridge would bring in $542 million. That’s a tax of more than $300 million on Luzerne County citizens over and above what is actually needed to maintain this bridge.”
Yudichak also takes issue with the method for approving the bridge tolling plan, “It’s certainly not something that has been vetted through a public or legislative process, and there are serious questions whether the P3 board has the ability to tax and appropriate funds. That is, by our Constitution, the responsibility of the General Assembly.”
Toohil and Yudichak pledged to keep working on the issue - pushing PennDOT for more detailed information and exploring alternative funding sources.
“Communication is key to our efforts and I am pleased that so many people joined us today, as we mobilize to oppose PennDOT’s questionable bridge-tolling plan,” Toohil added.
More than 80 participants joined the virtual discussion.
Other panelists included Mary Malone, Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce president; Teri Ooms, Wilkes University Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development executive director; and Wico van Genderen, Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.
To watch to forum, click the video box below.
Representative Tarah Toohil
116th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Rep. Toohil’s Office
RepToohil.com / Facebook.com/RepToohil