If Pennsylvania’s hopes to place tolls on I-80 prove unsuccessful, mass transit and repairs could suffer as a result.
If the federal government does not agree to allow tolls on I-80, SEPTA and other mass-transit agencies, along with highways and bridges, will get hundreds of millions of dollars a year less.
That would weaken the whole funding plan for transportation adopted by the legislature in July and force the state to struggle for other ways to raise money. Options could include higher gas taxes, higher fees for motor-vehicle registration, higher transit fares, and leasing the turnpike to a private operator.
Pennsylvania also is operating under the assumption that the federal government will let it use toll revenue from I-80 to pay for road improvements around the state. Currently, tolls on an interstate may be used only to repair that interstate.
"I think both assumptions are very questionable," said Robert Poole, a former transportation adviser to four presidents and now a transportation expert with the Reason Foundation, a conservative think tank in Los Angeles. Even if Pennsylvania gets the green light to impose tolls on I-80, he said, "congressional intent was crystal clear that the only use for the money was to rebuild an interstate for which no other financing was available."