Photo credit: PennDOT
An example of all-electric technology (AET) on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which would be introduced to the I-79 bridge in the P3 initiative.
Those opposed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed plan to toll nine bridges in Pennsylvania, including the I-79 bridge in Bridgeville, were rewarded with a temporary win on May 18 when the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania blocked the Major Bridge P3 initiative.
The alternative funding initiative was proposed as a sustainable funding solution for deteriorating infrastructure. The $2.2 billion plan for the bridges would be a Public-Private Partnership (P3) model to generate funds that would allow PennDOT to pay for the growing backlog of bridge rehabilitations and replacements without using its current funding.
Tolls of around $1 to $2 would be collected electronically, like other tolls across the state, by use of E-ZPass or license plate billing. The funds collected on select bridges would go back to that particular bridge for construction, maintenance and operation.
The solution was proposed due to its quick implementation of two to four years and the projected bolster to the economy, according to PennDOT. The drawbacks of the project admitted by PennDOT include the "potential for impacts to local communities" and the "perception of unfairness by users living/working near toll bridges."
Previous reporting by Gazette 2.0 detailed a former Crafton resident, Pete Linko, spearheading a Change.org petition to oppose tolls on the I-79 bridge. Currently, the petition has over 15,000 signatures and hundreds of comments. Linko’s petition cites high gas prices in the state as a reason the initiative seems unfair and unnecessary. Other commenters believe misuse of PennDOT funds is the cause for this plan.
Some representatives also oppose the initiative, like Sen. Devlin Robinson (R-37) who claims the average commuter would be tolled $1,000 per year.
Lawyers from Cumberland County and several other municipalities sued PennDOT, arguing that the project did not allow residents an adequate opportunity to provide feedback and that it was unconstitutional. The judge ruled in their favor. PennDOT is currently reviewing the judge’s ruling.