Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Geist (R-Altoona), chairman of the State House Transportation Committee, recently said a House select committee's report on toll roads indicates that establishing tolls on some of Pennsylvania’s roadways would be a viable way to generate the necessary revenue to maintain, expand and enhance the Commonwealth's transportation infrastructure.
At a press conference on Feb. 28, Geist and other members of the House Select Committee on Toll Roads announced the release of the select committee's final report to the General Assembly and discussed the findings of that report.
"We looked at other states to see how they are using the revenue generated by tolls," said Geist, who chaired the select committee. "Tolling has been very successful in these states and it could work here in Pennsylvania to enhance transportation corridors by expanding capacity and minimizing congestion.
"The bottom line is that existing public funding is insufficient to meet the growing needs of Pennsylvania's transportation infrastructure," Geist said. "We need to take a serious look at revenue-generating alternatives, like tolling, in order to maintain and expand Pennsylvania's highway system. We're just not going to be able to raise any more revenue at the pump."
The House Select Committee on Toll Roads was formed in June 2004, its creation authorized by House Resolution 581 of 2004. House Resolution 33 of 2005 authorized the select committee to continue its study.
Serving with Geist on that panel were Rep. Keith McCall (D-Carbon), who is the House Minority Transportation Committee Chairman; Rep. Roy Baldwin (R-Lancaster); Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery); Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny); Rep. Todd Eachus (D-Luzerne); and Rep. Dan Surra (D-Elk).
The select committee specifically examined the public/private partnership approach used in Virginia. It also studied the use of tolls in Texas and Florida.
"Our report recommends that legislation be developed that would enable Pennsylvania to enter into public/private partnerships that would use the revenue generated by tolls to fund the construction of new roads, bridges and a range of transportation facilities," Geist said. "Entire transportation corridors could be improved, including mass transit operating within those corridors."
Geist emphasized that no specific corridors have been identified at this point.
"Part of the function of any legislation we craft would be to develop criteria used for identifying particular corridors around the Commonwealth," he said. "The legislation also would allow for unsolicited proposals to PennDOT on potential projects."
Geist also stressed that the select committee is not recommending tolling existing roadways, unless additional capacity is required.
Several members of the select committee joined Geist at the press conference. Also in attendance was John Durbin, principal of Durbin Associates, a Harrisburg-based consulting firm that teamed with engineering consulting firm PBS&J to help research the study.
"The objective is to enable private-side dollars to be used as an additional tool to improve Pennsylvania's transportation infrastructure," Durbin said. "With the Commonwealth's existing needs, and its limited resources, these private/public partnerships can give Pennsylvania the opportunity to expand and enhance its roadways. We've seen an infusion of billions of dollars in these other states that have entered into these private/public partnerships."
Geist said the next step is for the Legislature as a whole to digest the select committee's report and to consider the merits of tolling.
"I'm optimistic that we will begin drafting legislation within the current legislative session to move forward with this concept," Geist said. "Can tolling work in Pennsylvania? The answer is a resounding yes."