HARRISBURG, Pa. – To toll or not to toll? That is the question, as Pennsylvania lawmakers mull over PennDOT's proposal to toll up to nine bridges, including Interstate 78's Lenhartsville bridge in Greenwich Township, in order to pay for repairs.
"The combined construction costs for the nine candidate bridges is roughly 2.2 billion," said a representative from PennDOT.
The House Transportation Committee got a briefing from PennDOT at a hearing held in Harrisburg on Thursday.
"Without the P3 (public-private partnerships), including the future revenue streams from tolling, 500 projects or more would not go forward," said the PennDOT panelist.
Some lawmakers expressed their concerns.
"We have some of the highest tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike because of Act 44," said Rep. Doyle Heffley, a Republican who represents parts of Carbon County. "We have one of the highest gas taxes. Now you're asking the folks in northeastern PA and across the commonwealth to pay more money just to go across a bridge that they already paid for."
PennDOT says the tolls will free up money for other work and would even create jobs.
"It will provide opportunities for Pennsylvania-based contractors and consultants," said one PennDot representative.
Some lawmakers say the tolling plan isn't perfect but will help move forward other improvement projects.
"Project after project, in county after county, will not get done if we don't advance this proposal as currently constituted," said Rep. Mike Carroll, a Democrat who serves parts of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.
The trucking industry says Pennsylvania is the third most expensive state in the U.S. in which to operate, and more tolls won't help that.
"We are going to lose jobs and we will lose revenue because we can't afford it," Heffley said. "Tolls can't be absorbed."
PennDOT says the earliest construction could start is 2023.