Thompson to Transportation Secretary LaHood: Reject I-80 Tolling Once and for All

Dec 10, 2009

Washington, D.C.—U.S. Representative Glenn `GT’ Thompson, R-Howard, today reiterated his opposition to tolling Interstate 80 in a letter to Ray LaHood, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.  He strongly protested Pennsylvania’s application to implement tolls on Interstate 80, and  urged the Secretary to reject the application.

Thompson reminded the Secretary:  “Tolling existing Interstate capacity will do nothing more than cripple an already ailing economy.  This is why I was so pleased to learn that during your Senate Confirmation hearing on January 21st, 2009, you expressed similar reservations to tolling existing interstate capacity.”

Thompson explains in the letter that the law governing the Interstate Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Pilot Program (ISRRPP) stipulates that tolling can only be used as a last resort for a state.
“However, between 2004 and 2007, $412 million in federal funding was diverted to mass transit and other accounts for use outside of building and maintaining the Commonwealth’s roads and bridges.  Furthermore, a 2007 memo from FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) cited PennDOT’s lengthy history of transferring Interstate Maintenance (IM) funds to other Federal-aid programs, rescinding IM funds, and maintaining a balance of $312 million in unobligated IM funds, which could have otherwise been utilized for operations and maintenance of I-80.”

In explaining the letter Thompson said, “It’s clear that the application review must take into account the fact that at the time of Act 44’s passage, the state had about six times the annual cost for operations and maintenance funds for I-80 on hand. From the beginning the tolling scheme has been about funding other projects, not I-80’s needs. Secretary LaHood should take this into account and not allow the Turnpike Commission to continue to bankrupt the state and con their way into a program they clearly do not qualify for. I’ve urged the Secretary to follow the law as Congress intended – as a last resort – and deny the tolling application and put an end to further attempts.”

Thompson drew attention to the investigations that have been focused on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC).  “One of the figures, a Pennsylvania General Assembly Senator, who played a key role in developing Act 44, has since been convicted and sentenced to prison.  Additionally, the same investigation forced the firing of the PTC Chairman and resulted in his wife’s conviction on 45 counts of corruption for which she is currently serving a prison term.  In Pennsylvania’s case, the I-80 tolling proposal served as a means of preventing the accountability and review that potential private investment in the Pennsylvania Turnpike would have required.

“Most recently, the PTC has been under investigation by the FBI regarding a highway widening project that came in $91 million over the original project bid.  It has also been reported throughout the state that the PTC currently is being investigated by the Pennsylvania Attorney General for links between political donations and turnpike contracts.”

Thompson questioned the PTC decision to hire a former healthcare company, Provident Healthcare Coalition of Baton Rouge, LA, to perform the financial valuation for the submission to toll I-80.  He asked, “Why did the PTC choose Provident Capital Advisors given their lack of credibility and no history of dealing with transportation infrastructure finance, when there are clearly a number of qualified firms that handle market-based analysis on a regular basis?”

The letter concludes:  “The purpose of programs such as the ISRRPP is not to enable transportation officials to create questionable financial models under questionable circumstances, which result in increased debt and higher costs for the residents of Pennsylvania and those traveling within and through the state.”

Thompson then urged LaHood to reject the application, citing the two previous rejections, and to use his discretion as Secretary to deny any further applications.