Thompson Tells Federal Highway Administration: Keep Politics Out of I-80 Decision

Dec 17, 2009

Washington, D.C.—U.S. Representative Glenn `GT’ Thompson, R-Howard, today joined 13 members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly for a briefing with the Federal Highway Administration, FHWA, to let them know of their strong opposition to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s recent application to toll I-80.

“Eleven representatives and two Commonwealth senators made the trip to Washington, despite the fact that they were in session in Harrisburg, in order to let the people who will make the decision on advancing the application for tolling I-80, know just how much this topic means to them and the people they represent,” said Thompson.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Thompson told the Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Greg Nadeau, that there are two ways to make this decision.  “It can be made under the rule of law, or it can be made based on politics.  I hope you follow the intent of the law in your decision.”

On November 19th, Thompson and his House of Representatives colleagues met with FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez to voice their opposition to the tolling plan.  Additionally, on December 10th, Thompson wrote to Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood requesting that he reject Pennsylvania’s third attempt at tolling Interstate 80 and to use his discretion to deny subsequent attempts to toll the highway.

Thompson said he thought the meeting was an important and powerful opportunity for the FHWA to hear from 11 state representatives who represent 60,000 people each and the two senators, who represent almost 250,000 people each in the Commonwealth.  Joining the delegation from Harrisburg were U.S. Representatives Thompson, Paul Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Erie.

A separate meeting, set up by FHWA for any elected official, who wanted to voice their opinions on the tolling of I-80 did not take place because no one attended.

Each of the legislators had an opportunity to speak during the more than hour-long session.  They addressed varying points, from the current economic constraints along the corridor and how tolling would exacerbate those problems, to the cloud tolling places  over future economic development, to the questionable and troublesome history of corruption at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, the lawmakers denounced the efficacy of this current application.

Rep. Matt Gabler, R-Treasure Lake, told the group that businesses in his district have said that if I-80 tolls had been in existence they would never have located in the district.  He also expressed deep concern with the integrity of the Turnpike Commission. 

Rep. Scott Hutchison, R-Venango, told the FHWA that his area has never recovered from the recession of the 1980s.  But he said that the growth that has come has been near the Interstate.  “If you take that away, we have almost nothing.”

An aide to Lt. Gov. Joe Scarnatti, R-Brockway, a de facto member of the Turnpike Commission, read a letter objecting to the application to toll I-80.

Nadeau told the lawmakers that the FHWA would complete their review of the application “judiciously and expeditiously.”  But he would not provide a timeframe.  He said the review was being conducted by a number of offices in his agency and the Department of Transportation.