‘Nobody is for this,’ Leaders Send Clear Message to PennDOT at I-80 Tolling Hearing

| May 6, 2022

tolling-hearingKNOX, Pa. (EYT) – “Nobody is for this,” said Clarion County Commissioner Wayne Brosius on Wednesday afternoon at a public comment hearing held by PennDOT concerning the proposed Interstate 80 Canoe Creek Bridges replacement project.

The I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges Project is a candidate for bridge tolling through the Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (MBP3) Initiative, part of the PennDOT Pathways Program. While the open house and public hearing sessions were organized in relation to an Environmental Assessment (EA), all of the speakers were against tolling due to possible detrimental impacts on the community.

PennDOT continues to pursue one-way tolling at Canoe Creek near mile marker 55, meaning traffic would only be tolled eastbound at this location.

The I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges are dual multi-span structures (one eastbound and one westbound) that were built in 1966, were extended in 1985, and underwent multiple retrofits for fatigue-induced cracking since 2013. These bridges cross over Canoe Creek and SR 4005 (Tippecanoe Road) in Beaver Township, Clarion County. Combined, they will carry an estimated average of 30,119 vehicles per day by 2025. About 50 percent of the traffic over these bridges is truck traffic.

Some speakers at Wednesday’s hearing questioned the legality of how tolls are established with the decisions apparently being made by non-elected officials, taking away decisions from legislators.

Seven registered speakers for public comment offered different reasons for not allowing tolling and construction of a roundabout to address the diversion of traffic for drivers not wanting to pay tolls. The roundabout would be built in Paint Township at the intersection of U.S. Route 322 and State Route 66 near Country Fair.

tolls open houseOpen house display at the Wolf’s Den.

Wayne Brosius, Clarion County Commissioner

“I represent the folks of Clarion County, all 38,000. I’ve talked with hundreds of people about this issue and nobody is for it. I talk to one person who came out and said that they didn’t see a problem with that. I’m just here to tell you what my constituents are telling me, and almost everyone is against this.”

“This is being throttled down our throats, and there are a lot of questions about how it was done and I understand that. The other thing is the idea that it needs to be paid for the rebuilding of these bridges by tolls. I spent a lot of time with the Northwestern Region’s 10-year transportation advisory committee. We talked about the TIP list a lot.”

“The Transportation Improvement Plans (TIP) that are set in place to talk about funding projects several years in advance for projects. It is my understanding that these bridges here at Canoe Creek were on the Interstate Tip List for a long time, so the money was there. The money was allocated for these bridges. And, then all of a sudden out of the blue – maybe out of the dark, it was decided that we need tolls to pay to rebuild these bridges.”

“I’m just wondering where that all came from. As far as tolling 80 tolling some vehicles and not others, I have issues with that. The idea of that was just brought up with possibly being labeled, discriminatory against some, and some people paying and some not. I see quite an issue with that.

“I think the whole tolling idea needs to go away — it just needs to go away. I really don’t know what else to say. This MBP3 board is a group of non-elected people appointed by politicians in Harrisburg. We’ve got the secretary of transportation on that and another at-large appointee by the governor.”

“We have somebody from the Senate, the majority leader who appoints somebody from the senate minority and majority, house majority, and house minority. Already in house majority. we can see by these appointees who they are and where this is coming from and who’s giving the orders for it. It’s not the representatives of the people, and it is coming from the executive branch. So I would urge everyone to contact the governor’s office.

“Get your comments in, and hopefully someone finally will listen.”

pennwest homes
Todd Griffith of Pennwest Homes offers a business perspective on tolls.

Todd Griffith, Pennwest Homes General Manager

“We are located in Emlenton, about 10 miles from here. Our manufacturing facility sits off Interstate 80 by about a half a mile on Route 38 and we build modular homes. We employ 193 people and produce about 475 houses a year. These homes are made up of about a thousand boxes. We refer to the sections that we build as boxes or floors. We built over 1,000 floors out of that manufacturing facility. They all must be shipped from our facility to where the houses are being constructed.”

“Almost every house we build is shipped on Interstate 80. We ship as far north as Bar Harbor, Maine, and as far south as Harrisonburg, Virginia. We ship to 14 states, although most of the homes that we build go into Pennsylvania and New York.”

“All of our builds are wide loads.”

“They can be as wide as 15 foot six and a size 14 foot six, both up to 76 feet long. The average box floor weighs 40,000 pounds and it takes a lot of skill to haul these homes.”

“If these tolls get put in place, it will most likely force all of our drivers to find alternate routes to get to their final destination. They would add thousands of dollars to the cost of our homes and it’s not safe to drive these sizes of houses in small communities like Knox, Clarion, and Brookville.”

“Our industry’s at war right now.”

“The higher costs of lumber, the disruption in the supply chains, rising interest rates, and inflation have all contributed to a significant downturn, adding a few thousand dollars to each home.”

“We compete with other manufacturing facilities that are located about three hours, so we’re already at a disadvantage because of the distance further away and adding extra costs will make our homes less competitive. Penn West is owned by Cavco Industries. Colony and Commodore homes are also owned by Cavco. Combined, these plants made over 3000 floors.”

“Eighty-five percent of those workers travel the interstate to get to and from work.”

“With the rising costs of everything, they’re looking for ways to save money, not spend more additional costs and it’s not in their best interest.”

“I understand projects like this cost money and the funding has to come from somewhere. I’m just asking you to find somewhere else where it won’t affect our business and employees in a harmful way.”

Scott John

State Senator Scott Hutchinson talks to John Stroup about tolling.

State Senator Scott Hutchinson

“I am categorically opposed to tolling for bridges on our freeways here in Pennsylvania, including the Canoe Creek bridges that are being planned. I will add a side note. In addition to that, I think the roundabout proposal is disastrous”

“There are many reasons to reject this tolling scheme, from an economic perspective and from a process perspective. From a fairness perspective as opposed to others such as a moral perspective.”

“Allow me to raise three environmental points. Regarding the diversion of traffic plans, I believe that air quality sucks in dirt and on buildings. Structural damage to buildings along those diversionary routes will be unaccounted for negative side effects for excess diesel and large diesel machines going through these through the small communities, to avoid tolls.”

“Number two, we’re talking about socioeconomic and environmental justice. We live in a low-income region and our ability to attain and attract jobs will be fully impacted by having tolls on these bridges. We’re saying the economic impact will be felt by the lack of jobs that they could have been developed here, grown here, and retained here.”

“We will have more low-income residents in our area. I think that’s something that is critical when you were assessing whether these bridges should be tolled because we already have an economic stranglehold on our economy. These low-income people where we can impact more going forward, not just the tolls they pay, but the lack of jobs for them to continue.”

“Everything we buy, from groceries to other household goods comes here by truck. Those costs are passed along to these low-income individuals in their grocery bills each and every time they go to the store. I don’t think that has been considered in your numbers.”

donna roundabout consultant

State Representative Donna Oberlander reviews plans for suggested Roundabout with consultant.

State Representative Donna Oberlander

“Although I’m not going to repeat what others have said, we are in lockstep. I, too, am opposed to the tolling on all nine I-80 bridges.”

“Our communities are small, bustling little towns where people need to pull in and out to do business on their main streets. That diversion traffic will impact these small bustling communities, communities where kids are crossing the street after school. It is going to change the ways they do business.”

“I’m very concerned about what this means to them from the additional accident to the additional traffic, and to their roads that are not built for that truck traffic.”

“I would also like to mention the Roundabout at 322 and 66. When I was looking at the proposal, I was told that this is only for diversion traffic. This is not for when we have an accident. And I would implore anyone of you to come to our small communities. When there is an accident on I-80, they are backed up for miles. I was told that the Roundabout is not built to keep traffic flowing, but to slow it down. It already slows down to a standstill when those things happen.”

State Representative Brian Smith

Screen Shot 2022-05-05 at 6.31.30 PM

“I would hope that we, as a state, come up with another way of financing projects.
Hopefully, there will be a plan to exempt the local people around the toll bridges to help alleviate the pain of the tolls for people who must drive through them.”

“Are they sure they can even collect the tolls? It has been an issue for the PA Turnpike where over a hundred million dollars went uncollected last year and is growing every year with the electronic plate tolling system.”

Paul Woodburn

paul tolls
“I’m a professor of economics at Clarion University and also a longtime member of Shippenville Borough Council. I think there are two important things.”

“If you make something more expensive, people will try to not use it. And so if you toll a bridge that was free, you’re going to have to avoid that by getting off at the exit prior to that.”

“There will be extra pollution and wear and tear.”

“The main thing from my perspective is that the highways are set up to be free for commerce. Economic prosperity occurs when transportation is easy and free, we set up toll roads when a private or for-profit entity thinks they can make a profit running a road.”

“The economy is not going to be as good with this extra tax. Our towns are going to be a whole lot more dangerous.”

John Stroup

John Stroup, Clarion Chamber of Business and Industry

“I agree that the infrastructure is needed, but I have had some concerns and it definitely is troubling, especially with recent economic problems.

“AAA recently announced diesel prices are higher than they have ever been. What does that mean to normal consumers? Prices rising more. How about supply chain problems we have?

“As a former costing analyst, I have listened to some of the people and local small companies.

“The money that we’re spending on those tolls locally will go somewhere else for another project. That is a big concern of mine — are you allowed to use it? You cannot use that toll money.

“You are actually doing the work of the legislators. They had some concerns. is this money taking the money of their appropriations out of their hands?

“This would be outrageous. I would ask that the MP3 committee suspend the project until a full cumulative effect analysis can be written.”

Project in Final Design Phase

Nine bridges in total on Interstate 80 are to be tolled through the initiative, including the Canoe Creek bridges in Clarion County and the North Fork Bridge in Jefferson County.

The project is currently in its final design phase. Construction is anticipated to begin between 2023 and 2025 with a three- to four-year construction period.

According to PennDOT, bridge tolling can provide the funds to repair or replace these costly bridges without using PennDOT’s current funding, which in turn allows those funds to be used for other roadway maintenance, operations, and improvements. Tolling would be all electronic and collected by using E-ZPass or license plate billing. The funds received from the toll would go back to the bridge where the toll is collected to pay for the construction, maintenance, and operation of that bridge.

PennDOT also noted that it is authorized to toll bridges under both federal regulation (23 USC 129O) and state law (Act 88 of 2012 – the P3 law). In November 2020, PennDOT received unanimous approval from the P3 Board to implement tolls on major bridges throughout the state through the Major Bridge P3 Initiative.

More information on the Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (MBP3) Initiative can be found here.

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