Last week, a coalition of highway users that includes major trucking groups asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to reject a request from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for permission to toll Interstate 80.

The Americans for a Strong National Highway Network, a coalition that represents users of the Interstate Highway System and the highway-based service industry, sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters stating the proposal "is inconsistent with the provisions and spirit" of the federal pilot program that authorizes tolls on Interstate Highways. The coalition members include the American Trucking Associations, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association), AAA and the American Highway Users Alliance.

The tolling application, submitted jointly by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, proposes to impose tolls on I-80 at nine collection points. Under the proposal, PennDOT would lease the highway to the PTC, the PTC would collect tolls, and the revenue would be used in part to pay "rent" to PennDOT, which would use the rent money for projects throughout the Commonwealth. Most of the remainder of the revenue would be used for I-80 maintenance and improvement projects, and for toll collection expenses.

The coalition argued in its letter the rental payments are not an eligible expense under the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, the federal pilot program which authorizes up to three States to toll a segment of their Interstate Systems. As the coalition's letter points out, Congress limited expenditure of toll revenue to projects only on the tolled facility.

The letter also points out that the ISRRPP requires applicants to demonstrate that tolling is the only available source of revenue for making needed improvements. As has been illustrated by the recent debate in Pennsylvania's General Assembly over transportation funding, tolls are just one potential option for funding highway projects.

Finally, recent statements by the PTC claiming that toll collection facilities will be strategically placed so as to exempt 70 percent of local residents from paying tolls opens the door to potential legal action under the Constitution's Commerce Clause, according to the Coalition letter. Furthermore, the letter says, this would violate the pilot program's requirement that impacts on interstate users must be considered.

For more on the Pennsylvania highway funding dilemma, see the September issue of Heavy Duty Trucking magazine.