By Rep. Anita Kulik
For months now I have stood against PennDOT and the proposed tolling of the I-79 bridge in Bridgeville. While this bridge is not situated in our district, the tolling will undoubtedly have a significant impact on residents and municipalities in the 45th District, especially in Carnegie and Scott.
So much of District 45 runs along I-79, and so many residents use this portion of the roadway daily, that many people will be affected. Whether going back and forth to work, visiting family, going shopping or to doctor visits, I-79 is used by thousands of our residents.
PennDOT has held several meetings on this subject. However, while PennDOT said they were looking for comments and input, I am not convinced the comments were heard.
One of my concerns is that, if the toll goes through, people will be looking for ways to avoid that section of I-79. The logical detour will be to get off I-79 at either Scott or Carnegie onto Route 50/Washington Pike. The portion of this roadway that goes through Carnegie is only single lane, and heading into Scott, while two lanes, is congested just with normal traffic. Add in trucks taking this roadway and the congestion heightens. This raises fears for the damage Route 50 will sustain with the increased traffic. This too is a PennDOT roadway, and I have expressed concerns as to what steps will be taken to keep this road safe for travel.
One of my biggest issues is that the tolls will not be used solely for the rehabilitation of the I-79 bridge. This bridge has been tagged for tolling because of the large number of vehicles that travel through it every day.
While the reconstruction of this bridge is a planned project for PennDOT, the money realized from the toll will not be used strictly for this location. Our residents will be bearing a tax whose monies will be spread across the state for other projects. And much like the Johnstown Flood Tax, there is no discussion as to when this tax would end.
The House has attempted to address this tolling process through the passage of Senate Bill 382. This bill would give the legislature a say in the approval of public-private transportation projects. It would also void prior initiatives of the public-private transportation partnership board. This bill’s final passage into law is pending.
Laws passed over the years have imposed strict penalties on those who choose to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Quite frankly, there is no excuse to get behind the wheel while “under the influence.” By doing so a person poses the risk of serious injury or death to innocent people.
House Bill 773, known as “Deana’s Law,” seeks to impose new, stricter penalties for those who are repeat offenders. This bill includes language addressing persons who refuse testing of breath or chemical testing pursuant to a valid search warrant, court order or any basis permissible by the Federal and Pennsylvania constitutions.
In that situation, the offender would be charged with a third-degree felony if they have two prior offenses and a second-degree felony if they have three or more prior offenses.
Further, consecutive sentences would be imposed upon a person with two or more prior offenses, and further sentencing enhancements would be established for those who refuse testing and have four or more prior offences. There would be a suspension of operating privileges upon conviction for a period of 18 months for convictions of a misdemeanor of the first degree or a felony of the second or third degree. This bill will move next to the Senate for consideration.
Offering proper protection to those who serve to protect the public is very important. House Bill 1546 would provide for the confidentiality of personal information for these public safety officials and members of their immediate families. Criminal penalties could be imposed for a violation of the provisions in this bill. This bill passed the House and will now move to the Senate for consideration.
The House of Representatives continues to hold committee and policy meetings to address issues of importance to Pennsylvanians. The House will reconvene session on Dec. 13, and various bills are expected to be addressed at that time.